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  Black Mountain College Project






Those who inherited Black Mountain College in the fall of 1949 were faced with the formidable task of healing the badly fractured community, of raising funds, and of reexamining the college’s goals. An administrator was hired to reorganize the college and to raise funds – a union that was neither satisfactory for him nor for the college. Former students Joseph Fiore, Warren "Pete"Jennerjahn, Betty Jennerjahn, and Hazel Larsen Archer were hired to teach in the arts. Robert Turner, David Weinrib and Karen Karnes taught ceramics, and Katherine Litz, dance. M.C. Richards and her husband Albert William Levi returned from a year’s sabbatical to teach. Composers Lou Harrison and Stefan Wolpe taught music. Until 1953 the college continued to have a general curriculum though the offerings were limited. Philosophy was taught by Levi, anthropology by Paul Leser, chemistry and physics by Natasha Goldowski, sociology by Flola Shepard, and mathematics by Max Dehn. 

In 1951, the poet Charles Olson, who had taught one weekend a month for the 1948-49 year, returned from the Yucatan to teach and remained the dominant figure until the college’s closing. He brought Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan to the college as teachers and, together with Robert Creeley as editor, founded the Black Mountain Review. A Pottery Seminar brought Shoji Hamada, Soetsu Yanagi and Bernard Leach to the college. In the summers Franz Kline, Ben Shahn, Robert Motherwell and Jack Tworkov taught painting; John Cage, music; Merce Cunningham, dance; and Peter Voulkos, Warren MacKenzie and Daniel Rhodes, pottery.

Although the college continued to espouse the inherited ideals of the 1930s such as community living, a farm, work program, and faculty-run college,  the community was, in fact, comprised largely of artists and scholars with little interest in farming, administration or maintenance. Periodic efforts to give the college a more traditional structure and program were unsuccessful. A conventional college with an authoritarian administration inevitably meant a loss of academic and creative freedom. The GI Bill benefits were dwindling, and the conservative atmosphere in the 50s made it virtually impossible for experimental ventures to raise funds. Eventually, the faculty were paid in beef allotments from the remaining cows and parcels of property were sold.

In its darkest hours, despite the inevitable demise, Charles Olson continued to postulate new schemes. Finally, in the fall of 1956, the remaining faculty directed Olson to begin the process of closing the college. The few students left the campus, many for San Francisco where the college continued to sponsor programs including a drama workshop directed by Robert Duncan and Olson’s Special View of History lectures. In March 1957 the courts ordered Olson to cease all programs, and the college closed although a postmortem issue of the Black Mountain Review did not appear until Autumn 1957.