Black Mountain College (BMC) was an experiment in higher education that included art in the studies of all students, artists or not, located in Black Mountain, NC from 1933 to 1957. BMC was founded by John Andrew Rice and Theodore Dreier, based on John Dewey’s principles of progressive education.
BMC was ahead of its time, taking a lead in interdisciplinary education and integrating roughly 10 years before Brown v. Board of Education. Featured faculty and alumni include Josef and Anni Albers, Hazel Larsen Archer, Ruth Asawa, Joseph Fiore, Mary “Molly” Gregory, Lorna Blaine Halper, Warren “Pete” Jennerjahn, Ray Johnson, Barbara Morgan, Elaine Schmitt Urbain, John Urbain, and others who created works important to modern art and its creation. Because of this national and regional significance, the Asheville Art Museum strives to collect and preserve works from Black Mountain College to help tell the story of American and Modern art. Currently, the Museum has more than 1,500 BMC objects—roughly one quarter of the Collection—ranging from sculpture, textiles, and paintings to drawings and prints, as well as ephemera from the years the school was open.
The college is an interesting phenomenon. With their years coinciding with the Great Depression and World War II, there was often a lack of funds for the school and for materials to create, leading them to be incredibly experimental in the types of materials they used to make artworks. Two of the most notable artists, Josef and Anni Albers, came to BMC after emigrating to the United States from Germany before WWII began, during the rise of Hitler. Along with them, they brought their modern aesthetic and design prowess garnered through their time as students and instructors at the Bauhaus. During its time, more than 1,200 artists passed through the school, and at least 60 of them “graduated.” Though not an accredited college, those who attended transferred to other institutions and were accepted into different master’s programs. The school’s emphasis on creativity led to groundbreaking designs and work within the art world.
In Intersections in American Art in the SECU Collection Hall, there is a small group of works on display from the Black Mountain College Collection, one of the most notable being Ruth Asawa’s wire sculpture Untitled (S.372). Previous exhibitions have highlighted archival objects along with works from the Collection.
These projects are also funded in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts; an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities; a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources; and by North Carolina Humanities, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.