Meet Corey Loftus, the Museum’s fall 2021 curatorial fellow!
What drew you to apply to Asheville Art Museum’s curatorial fellowship?
I applied to the Asheville Art Museum because it holds one of the most impressive Black Mountain College (BMC) collections in the country. Having the chance to work with the archival documents and assist with the extensive digitization project of these materials has been a dream for me. I have been obsessed with Black Mountain College since I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania and Helen Molesworth came to campus to speak about her landmark exhibition on the college and its lasting influence, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957. My senior thesis concentrated on Anni Albers, who taught weaving at the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College, and her textiles commissioned by two suburban synagogues in the late 1950s. I continued to study Black Mountain College during the completion of my master’s in art history at Tufts University, tracing Josef and Anni Albers’s collection and curation of Pre-Columbian art on various trips they made to Latin America during their time at Black Mountain College in the 1930s and 1940s. Working at the Asheville Art Museum has afforded me the time and access to materials to continue my research on Black Mountain College within the context of a project aimed at increasing public access to the Museum’s Black Mountain College collection.
What main projects have you been working on?
I have been working on two main projects during my fellowship. In 2020, the Museum received a major grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to digitize the Black Mountain College collection. In my role as the graduate fellow, I assist with the cataloguing, photographing, and interpretation of the archival documents from the BMC collection. By the end of the project, these materials will be publicly accessible online, constituting an invaluable resource for researchers all over the world working on Black Mountain College. Spending time in the archive has also inspired me to think critically about the relationship between the students and faculty at BMC in connection with place and setting in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I curated a spotlight exhibition now on view in the permanent galleries focused on this idea titled, Learning from the Landscape: Art, Education, and Nature at Black Mountain College. Most students, faculty, and visitors travelled long distances (often by train) to reach the remote campus situated in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, whose landscape made an impressive backdrop for the development and incubation of intellectual interchange, artistic freedom, and the collaborative spirit at the college. The grouping of artwork, photography, and archival documents included in the exhibition speak to the various ways setting proved crucial to the college’s modern and progressive educational project.
What is most valuable to you regarding these projects?
The digitization of the Museum’s Black Mountain College collection is aimed at increasing and encouraging public access to these materials. The most rewarding part of this fellowship is the opportunity to actively contribute to the larger goal of making art and ephemera available for further research. So much of the cool stuff museums and collecting institutions own is hidden away in storage for safekeeping, but digitizing these objects and putting them online as an interactive resource will allow more people to see them even if they cannot make it into the museum in person. I think that is a great thing and I hope it encourages further research and discussion to take place.
What is something that surprised you?
The landscape in Asheville! Every day when I walk home from the Museum, I cannot believe how beautiful the mountains are. Surely this place had a similar impact on those who attended Black Mountain College a little less than a century ago.