Black Mountain College
Black Mountain College nestled in the foothills of western North Carolina from
1933 to 1956. It was an experimental school, dedicated to community living and
academic freedom. Students at Black Mountain could expect a course schedule free
of required classes, no formal graduation process, and faculty who worked alongside
them as equals. John Andrew Rice began Black Mountain College after he was ignominiously
released from employment at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.
Black Mountain College Logo.
To see more Black Mountain College ephemera preserved in the North Carolina
Collection, click on the picture.
Black Mountain College was a flashpoint for American counterculture in the
1930s and 1940s, and served as an artistic and scholastic haven for avant-garde
artists and teachers. Black Mountain’s first art teacher was Josef Albers,
a refugee from Nazi Germany and a leader in the Bauhaus art movement. Albers’s
former students Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning both taught at the school’s
summer sessions. Experimental composer John Cage and inventor Buckminster Fuller
were both professors at Black Mountain. Other people associated with the college
were Merce Cunningham, Walter Gropius, Robert Creeley, and Charles Olson. Guest
lecturers included Albert Einstein and Thornton Wilder.
Like many organizations rooted in zeal, Black Mountain College suffered from
frequent ideological schisms and chronic financial difficulty. In 1944, five
faculty members resigned and eleven students withdrew from the college over
a split described by Rector W. R. Wunsch as “so serious that many members
of the faculty have believed the existence of the College to be seriously threatened.”
By 1949 all original faculty had left. Enrollment began to decline and financial
The College was, for the most part, self-sufficient. Students made repairs
on the buildings and erected new structures. The College also ran a summer work
camp in which students participated in campus building projects. Black Mountain
College even had a farm which provided students with meat, butter, eggs, and
vegetables. In addition, the College solicited funds from alumni and asked the
Black Mountain community for donations. However, by 1956 there was nothing left
to save. Sue Thrasher, in her 1974 article “Radical Education in the Thirties,”
puts it quite poignantly: “Finally in 1956, with nothing else to do really,
the school whimpered out of existence.”
The Black Mountain College campus buildings are now Camp Rockmont, a Christian
summer camp for boys, and the Lake Eden Events grounds
Source for image on this page: Image from "Cover of the Black Mountain College Bulletin 1950-1951," Black Mountain College Ephemera Collection, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. VC378.9 M67 Black Mountain.
Letter from W. R. Wunsch to Students, Their Parents, and Advisory Council of
Black Mountain College. Aug. 15, 1944.
Thrasher, Sue. “Radical Education in the Thirties.” Southern
Exposure. Vol. 1, no. 3 and 4. Winter 1974. 204-210 pp.
Williams, Wiley J. and Robert Blair Vocci. “Black Mountain College.”
In Encyclopedia of North Carolina, ed. by William S. Powell. Chapel Hill,
N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. 123-124 pp.
For further information:
Mountain College Collection in the North Carolina State Archives
Fully Awake, a documentary
film about Black Mountain College.
The Black Mountain College
Museum and Arts Center
The Black Mountain College
A. Rice Papers. Appalachian State University. Collection number 318.
Selected items available at the North Carolina Collection
Remembering Black Mountain College: An Exhibition, curated by Mary Emma Harris. Black Mountain, N.C.: Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center, 1996. Call number C378 B62E7.
Smith, Leverett T. Art and Education at Black Mountain College, 1933-1956. 1978. Call number Cp378 B62E8.
The Black Mountain College Review. Black Mountain, N.C.: Black Mountain College. no. 1 June 1951, no. 1-4 1954, no. 5 Summer 1955, no. 6 Spring 1956, and no. 7 Autumn 1957. Call numbers C378 B62Q1 and C378 B62Q.
Harris, Mary Emma. Starting at Zero: Black Mountain College, 1933-57.
Cambridge: Kettle's Yard Gallery, 2005. C378
Duberman, Martin B. Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1993. Call number C378 B62E3 1993.