THE ARTISTS, POETS and PROFESSORS of BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE (the college featured in the film THE LONGEST RIDE) Part 10 Irwin Kremen (ARTIST)


Nicholas Sparks Talks Adapting ‘The Longest Ride’ to the Screen

The Longest Ride Official Trailer #1 (2015) – Britt Robertson Movie HD

Again today we take a look at the movie “The Longest Ride” which visits the Black Mountain College in North Carolina which existed from 1933 to 1957 and it birthed many of the top artists of the 20th Century. In this series we will be looking at the history of the College and the artists, poets and professors that taught there. This includes a distinguished list of  individuals who visited the college and at times gave public lectures.

My first post in this series was on the composer John Cage and my second post was on Susan Weil and Robert Rauschenberg who were good friend of CageThe third post in this series was on Jorge Fick. Earlier we noted that  Fick was a student at Black Mountain College and an artist that lived in New York and he lent a suit to the famous poet Dylan Thomas and Thomas died in that suit.

The fourth post in this series is on the artist  Xanti Schawinsky and he had a great influence on John Cage who  later taught at Black Mountain College. Schawinsky taught at Black Mountain College from 1936-1938 and Cage right after World War II. In the fifth post I discuss David Weinrib and his wife Karen Karnes who were good friends with John Cage and they all lived in the same community. In the 6th post I focus on Vera B. William and she attended Black Mountain College where she met her first husband Paul and they later  co-founded the Gate Hill Cooperative Community and Vera served as a teacher for the community from 1953-70. John Cage and several others from Black Mountain College also lived in the Community with them during the 1950’s. In the 7th post I look at the life and work of M.C.Richards who also was part of the Gate Hill Cooperative Community and Black Mountain College.

In the 8th post I look at book the life of   Anni Albers who is  perhaps the best known textile artist of the 20th century and at Paul Klee who was one  of her teachers at Bauhaus. In the 9th post the experience of Bill Treichler in the years of 1947-1949  is examined at Black Mountain College. In 1988, Martha and Bill started The Crooked Lake Review, a local history journal and Bill passed away in 2008 at age 84.

In the 10th post I look at the art of Irwin Kremen who studied at Black Mountain College in 1946-47 and there Kremen spent his time focused on writing and the literature classes given by the poet M. C. Richards.

Irwin Kremen: Beyond Black Mountain (1966 to 2006)
Through June 17
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University

click to enlarge

There is a Kabalistic notion that at the moment of one’s death, all one’s days come together at the locus of the soul. “Gather Your Days” is the term for this phenomenon; it is also the title of a work by Irwin Kremen in his current exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke. Kremen, who holds no mystical or religious beliefs, sees this exhibition as perhaps as close as one might come to such an experience.

Irwin Kremen: Beyond Black Mountain (1966 to 2006) is an opportunity to enter a unique world of making and seeing. In 1966, at the age of 41, Irwin Kremen began to make art. Kremen was a psychology professor at Duke with a full academic calendar and family life, but he found a way to begin a 40-plus year journey that has produced an astonishing body of work. Kremen was clearly inspired and energized by his friendship with modern luminaries such as Merce Cunningham and John Cage (Cage’s notorious “silent piece,” 433, is dedicated to Kremen). And he was also profoundly encouraged by Italian artist Italo Valenti. But ultimately Kremen cultivated a highly personal and innovative approach to artmaking that is all his own. He calls it “work-of-my-kind.”

Upon entering the Nasher’s lobby you will first see the large sculptures of steel, aluminum and wood that represent Kremen’s most recent collaborative venture with sculptor William Noland. The epic scale of these forceful and spatially mutable works is in notable contrast to what one encounters in the exhibition space. It is in some ways difficult to reconcile the small scale of Kremen’s collages with their impact. They require a degree of patience, a kind of reorienting of one’s own rhythms. This is not a show you can jet through and get. But if you give yourself some time, the pieces begin to convey a feeling of the infinite.

“The Unsung No. 2” (1989) is a small collage of paper and another undetermined material, referred to as “paper vinyl (?).” A stain of ochre grounds the base of the composition, which opens upward into grays with some blue passages. A deeper gray along the topmost edge frames the upper section. Continue to look and paper seams begin to show themselves cutting across the surface of the piece. There is play between straight cuts and torn edges. Further investigation brings into view the scars, specks and grime of the surface itself, the suggestion of screen-printed letters. The work seems never to stop offering information or essence. This experience of being able to go deeper and deeper into a piece is overwhelmingly true of almost all of the collage works.

click to enlarge

Kremen’s materials are a key element of his work. They come from multiple locations and sources, harvested with precision and zeal. The archival care and technique wielded by Kremen in relation to these materials suggests that they have not so much been found as rescued. In some cases they even feel like they’ve been mined; Kremen’s sensitivity to color and his capacity to build painterly surfaces can produce an almost gem-like glow, as seen in some of the more brightly colored pieces such as “Retinal Splash” (1977) or “Luxe No. 2” (1989/2004). Another key element of Kremen’s work is his collage technique, which seems to have stemmed from an impulse to preserve and value his materials. Rather than gluing or pasting, Kremen painstakingly builds his compositions and traces what he calls a “schematic.” He then adheres thin Japanese paper against the back of each fragment and assembles them with paper “hinges.” The result is an almost sculptural experience of the materials—edges are allowed their autonomy. This method incorporates the use of magnifying lenses and fine tools, some of which Kremen has forged himself.

Kremen’s singular approach to constructing these works contributes to the powerful intentionality and sense of the monumental in small, ostensibly simple compositions such as “Junctures” (1979). “Junctures” measures 5 3/8 x 4 5/8 inches and consists of a black central rectangular shape built out of paper fragments, surrounded by a torn frame of blue. The materials are paper and paint, although as in much of Kremen’s work, it’s hard to discern where one medium ends and another begins. Kremen allows the white underside of the paper to reveal tears and delineate shapes, which offers dimension as well as a sense of age. In this way many of Kremen’s collages begin to resonate as artifacts, bearing the traits of ancient archeological finds.

While Kremen refuses metaphor or attendant meaning in connection with the rest of his oeuvre (but for the Re’eh series—see below), it is difficult not to see or feel themes emerge as one makes one’s way through this exhibition. And if there were a dominant single theme, it might be about the desire to hold and frame the joy of visual essences as they flash by us, to preserve and also to transform them, to create works that simultaneously celebrate and mourn the press of days and the experience of sentient life.

The Re’eh series

Irwin Kremen maintains that his work has no metaphoric or symbolic content. The one exception is the Re’eh series, which is displayed in its own separate room in the exhibition space. The Re’eh series stands as a rupture, self-described by Kremen as a shock when the first of the series “appeared” to him. In the winter of 1980 Kremen created a piece that undercut his preconceptions about what “work-of-his-kind” was supposed to be. In this piece, “Im Lager,” Kremen recognized imagery that echoed the horrors of Nazi Germany. In Kremen’s own words:

I knew that it had to do with the Holocaust, knew it with immediacy. Those stripes! And that shape with its broken Hebrew word! Torah scroll, tombstone? At once, the stripes that were worn in the camps and a scroll whose script is entombed in the same stripes! What else, if not both the camps and the world that the camps destroyed!

And while he had invested himself in the idea that his work was never to be “about” anything, he recognized the need to create a series that would follow the trajectory begun in that seminal work, a monument to victims of the Holocaust. Thus the Re’eh series, which includes works with such titles as “Broken Words,” “The Inconsolable” and the starkly grim “Transport,” constitutes an anomaly in Kremen’s output. But the series also serves as a cornerstone, even the soul of the exhibition. Each piece in the Re’eh series speaks in multiple layers, grappling with the unspeakable. The series also speaks to a kind of artistic courage—to relinquish preconceptions in the act of making. —Amy White

Irwin Kremen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Irwin Kremen (born 1925) is an American artist who at 41 began making art while Director of the Duke University Graduate Program in Clinical Psychology, after earning a Ph.D. six years earlier in clinical psychology at Harvard University.

Kremen’s artwork mainly consists of non-representational collage, sculpture, and painting. In his later years he has defined a fourth grouping which he calls “multimodes.”[1] These are syntheses of the other three or sometimes of just two. Early on, he worked in the first three modes but in 1969, while on sabbatical in Florence, Italy as a Fellow at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies, he began to compose collages of weathered paper and continued this for a decade.[2][3] Becoming unhappy with conventional methods of gluing collage elements, he developed a conservational method of affixing the disparate pieces together via tiny hinges of Japanese paper.[4][5]

In the late 1970s, while continuing collage making, Kremen returned to three-dimensional work, now in iron and scrap steel, and by the later 90s entered a collaboration with the sculptor William Noland. Over the next decade they made monumentally sized works, three of which were exhibited in Kremen’s 2007 retrospective at Duke University‘s Nasher Museum of Art. He also sporadically resumed work with acrylic paints and toward the late 90s began making painted panels below which were rows of collages arranged rhythmically.

Among Kremen’s major works is the Re’eh Series, a single work relative to the Holocaust, consisting of 11 narrative collages.[6]


Born and raised in Chicago, Kremen attended Northwestern University for two-and-a-half years leaving in 1945 to become a reporter on ‘’The Chicago Journal of Commerce’’.[7] By that time he had independently encountered avant-garde art and modern literature and had begun writing poetry. Whereupon, in 1946, he left Chicago for the renowned Black Mountain College, an experimental educational community founded in 1933 near Asheville, N.C.[8] There Kremen spent his time focussed on writing and the literature classes given by the poet M. C. Richards.

Beginning in 1947 and for the next eight years he lived in Greenwhich Village, writing, reading widely, working variously in bookstores and in publishing, and broadening his knowledge of art and its history. And he became involved with the avant-garde circle around John Cage to whom he had been introduced by M.C. Richards in 1951 in New York, as also to David Tudor and Merce Cunningham. [9] In 1953 Cage dedicated to Kremen the score of 4’33” in proportional notation, as later he also did theTacet versions of 4’33”, the published editions of the so-called silent piece . [10] During that time he married Barbara Herman whom he had met at a Cage concert; completed a B.A. at The New School for Social Research; and went on to obtain a Ph.D. inclinical psychology at Harvard University. With his wife Barbara Kremen and their two children he left Cambridge for a professorial position on the faculty of the Psychology Department at Michigan State University. Two years later he joined that faculty at Duke University, and in another three years, in 1966, made his first work of art. He retired from Duke in 1992, and continues to make art.


In 1977, after having kept his art private for twelve years, Kremen, then 54, agreed to an exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) with two solo venues, the first in 1978 at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Winston Salem, NC, and the second in 1979, at its Museum in Washington.+ Twenty-nine solo venues followed, all but two in museums or contemporary art centers, and his work has been included in 27 group shows. The first exhibit of the Re’eh Series was held in 1985 at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA; nine other exhibits of it have followed. In the spring of 2007, the Nasher Museum of Art presented Kremen’s first retrospective. It included more than 172 works – collage, painting and sculpture – spanning each of the 40 years of Kremen’s art-making since he began at age 41.[11] In 2011, the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, NC held an exhibit of Kremen’s late work.

The Longest Ride Movie CLIP – Bull Riding Lesson (2015) – Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood Movie HD


8:30 PM PDT 4/6/2015 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

A chance to check out up-and-coming actors in cloyingly calculated performances


April 10 (20th Century Fox)


Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Jack Huston


George Tillman Jr.

The latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation stars Scott Eastwood (son of Clint) and Britt Robertson as oddly matched lovers

When it comes to Nicholas Sparks, you’re either up for the ride or you’re not. If you are, you’re part of a Middle American fan club that has supported nine schmaltzy, formulaic, achingly sincere film adaptations of the novelist’s books to the cumulative box office tune of about $750,000,000. If you’re not, well, The Longest Ride will feel like one of the longest 128 minutes of your life. Old-fashioned in all the most tedious ways, this by-the-numbers romance between oddly mismatched lovers plods along in a way that will nonetheless provide the cinematic equivalent of an agreeable airplane novel read for the already converted.

What’s most strange here is how Sparks, in a calculated attempt to link people from very different worlds, offers up social backgrounds for them that simply don’t mix at all — modern Southern college sorority life, the circumstances for World War II Jewish refugees, enclaves of modern art a half-century ago and today and, per the title, the good-ol’-boy milieu of professional bull riding. On top of that, no matter what crises may arise (and they are numerous), everyone is always perfectly attired and surrounded by pristine North Carolina settings in which no blade of grass is ever out of place.

The pretty couple at the center of things has modern cowboy Luke (Scott Eastwood), comeback-minded after having been violently thrown by a mighty mean bull named Rango, pursuing a very gentlemanly courtship of Wake Forest college senior Sophia (Britt Robertson) shortly before she’s due to move to New York for a high-end art gallery internship. Luke’s the sort to tote flowers when he shows up for their first date (“Call me old-school,” he bashfully intones), while Sophia is mentally already half-way out the school door on the way to her big-city future.

But fate intervenes, as it has a habit of doing, when the couple rescue an old man from a car accident on a dark rainy night and take him to a hospital. While he recovers, genial old gent Ira Levinson (Alan Alda) allows Sophia to read aloud to him from old letters that recount his poignant relationship with his beloved late wife, Ruth. So even as it’s not explained why so many letters were written when, in fact, Ira and Ruth were in the same place most of the time back in the early 1940s, we see extended flashbacks of the newly arrived Austrian Ruth (Oona Chaplin), a vivacious, forthright, immaculately attired young woman, capturing the heart of the pleasant looking but exceedingly placid Ira (Jack Huston, bearing absolutely no resemblance to Alda, young or old).

The couple’s many trials and tribulations, notably including Ira’s Jake Barnes-like war injury that prevents him from giving Ruth the children she craves and their failure to adopt a parentless hillbilly boy who shows intellectual promise, simply serve to demonstrate how few obstacles Luke and Sophia face compared to theirs. But more directly, Ruth’s passion for modern art fostered at the (real) progressive Black Mountain College in North Carolina feeds oh-so conveniently into Sophia’s career interests, while also providing the springboard for one of the most outrageously preposterous surprise endings in recent movies.

Leaving his career origins in Soul Food and the Barbershop series (which he produced) very far behind indeed, director George Tillman Jr. indulges, nay, embraces the sanitized banality of Sparks’ world with a straight face. Just as the basic plot points are hard to swallow, even the most rudimentary aspects of the characters’ interactions feel forced, artificial and unspontaneous. A significant part of the interest here surely lies in the film’s role as a showcase for four just moderately known young actors. Robertson, who co-stars in the highly anticipated, about-to-arrive Tomorrowland, often seems to have a bridle on here, keen to impart some spontaneity that’s being kept in check. Eastwood, in his first significant starring role after several supporting gigs, most recently in Fury, certainly resembles his dad both physically and in his inclination for minimal dialogue; he’s easy on the eyes and comfortably inhabits a Western-style character, but his potential remains to be determined.

Curiously, the couple from 70-odd years ago has been cast with grandchildren of Hollywood luminaries from that period. Huston displays none of the gumption associated with his director grandfather John or the latter’s thespian offspring. By contrast, Chaplin, granddaughter of Charles, daughter of actress Geraldine and namesake of her grandmother, is the sole younger actor to pop here; playing the only one of the youthful characters with any boldness or inclination to speak her own mind, the unconventional-looking performer comes off as assertive, driven and appealing in an idiosyncratic manner.

But providing the film with whatever emotional grounding it can claim is Alda. Restricted almost exclusively to a hospital bed, the 79-year-old actor makes the canned sentimentality of his 91-year-old character go down quite easily as he comments to Sophia about the vicissitudes of his life.

The settings and compositions are picture-postcard, the score syrupy, the bull-riding coverage not entirely convincing, the sentiments cliched and reassuring. But, boy oh boy, the ending! In Sparks’ world, when happiness rains, it pours.

Production: Fox 2000 Pictures, Temple Hill, Nicholas Sparks Productions

Cast: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, Alan Alda, Lolita Davidovich, Melissa Benoist, Gloria Reuben

Director: George Tillman Jr.

Screenwriter: Craig Bolotin, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks

Producers: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Nicholas Sparks, Theresa Park

Executive producers: Michele Imperato Stabile, Robert Teitel, Tracey Nyberg

Director of photography: David Tattersall

Production designer: Mark Garner

Costume designer: Mary Claire Hannan

Editor: Jason Ballantine

Music: Mark Isham

Casting: Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham

PG-13 rating, 128 minutes


Psychology Department’s “Artist in Residence”

Right NowI a Villema II
Irwin Kremen collages: Right Now, top; I a Villema II, bottom
Les Todd

Irwin Kremen, an assistant professor emeritus of psychology, is known almost as well for his art as for the academic career that has been his primary occupation.

This spring, “Irwin Kremen: Beyond Black Mountain (1996-2006),” a retrospective featuring more than 160 of the artist’s works, opened at the Nasher Museum of Art. The exhibition, which will run through June 19, comprises collages, paintings, and sculpture that span the forty years that Kremen has been making art—since he began in earnest at age forty-one, three years into his teaching career at Duke. On April 29, Kremen will lecture on a series of eleven collages included in the exhibition that relate to images of the Holocaust.

Many of Kremen’s collages consist of scraps of weathered paper he gathered during overseas travels. His sculptures, often large in scale, are composed of iron, saw blades, and steel, among other materials.

Kremen’s career as part-scholar, part-artist actually began years before he joined the Duke faculty, years before he considered psychology an interest, much less a career choice. He dropped out of Northwestern University after three years and worked as a reporter and a columnist for a local newspaper before moving to New York. There, he read an article about Black Mountain College, an art school near Asheville, North Carolina. “I immediately got on the train and went down there,” he said in a 2000 Duke Magazine profile, “and I decided that was the place for me to go.”

At Black Mountain, he concentrated on his writing, forming a close relationship with teacher M.C. Richards, a writer and potter. In 1951 in New York, Richards introduced him to celebrated artists associated with Black Mountain—John Cage, David Tutor, and Merce Cunningham—all of whom became close friends and eventually ardent supporters.

Later, after Kremen had discovered his love for psychology and made his start along an academic career path, Richards pushed him to turn his attention to collage making. What began in the late 1960s as a personal experiment would morph into a lifelong pursuit.

Kremen’s debut exhibit was organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection in 1978; since then, his work has been shown in more than thirty venues at museums and art centers nationally and abroad. “The Art of Irwin Kremen,” an exhibition consisting of seventy-three collages and seventeen metal sculptures, was displayed at the Nasher’s predecessor, the Duke University Museum of Art, in 1990.

_________ community news
The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center Launches New Exhibit “Late Works by Irwin Kremen” on February 18 

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (BMCM+AC) presents the new exhibition In Site: Late Works by Irwin Kremen opening Feb. 18, 2011 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and extending through June 4, 2011. There will be a gallery talk by the artist at 11:00am on Sat., Feb. 19th. The exhibition will primarily focus on recent collages by this master collagist and Durham, NC resident, but it will also include a selection of his sculptures. A 48-page color catalogue will accompany the exhibition with an essay by the artist. This exhibition is organized by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center located at 56 Broadway in downtown Asheville, NC. After it closes here, the show will travel to The Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.Working as a reporter and columnist for a local daily newspaper in New York City, five months after he had quit studying journalism at Northwestern University, Irwin Kremen came across an article featuring Black Mountain College. Without hesitation, he hopped on a train and joined this small, avant-garde community flourishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Kremen recalls that he “sought fresh experience, different ideas, expanded feeling, in short, another way to be in the world.”

Although Kremen enrolled in Black Mountain College in 1946 to pursue his aspirations as a young writer, the progressive and collective environment he encountered there permanently re-defined his ideas about education. Black Mountain College exposed Kremen to such various and influential artists as poet and potter M.C. Richards and abstract painters Josef Albers and Kenneth Noland. Richards, who became a life-long friend of Kremen’s, prompted his first collage experiment nearly twenty years after Kremen had left Black Mountain College. What, at the time, had seemed to be only a playful assignment instigated what some consider Kremen’s ultimate metamorphosis, a transformation that continues to this day.

After Black Mountain College, Kremen lived in New York’s Greenwich Village where he befriended John Cage, Merce Cunningham and David Tudor, all of whom spent time at BMC after Kremen left. Cage dedicated his famous piece 4’33” to Kremen. Eventually Kremen went back to school and earned his Ph.D in clinical psychology from Harvard and moved to Durham to teach at Duke in 1963. It was a few years later that M.C. Richards introduced him to collage making. Kremen is known for his elegant found-paper collages that employ a unique “hinge” construction technique. He says about his work, “I hunt out papers that have been in sun, in rain, covered with the dirt of the city. Yet as I look at them, I realize their exquisite potential.”

Irwin Kremen has had solo exhibitions at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, as well as at a long list of galleries and museums. He won the Sam Ragan Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Fine Arts of NC in 1998.

Programming during the exhibition will include an Artist’s Talk and an Advanced Collage Workshop with the artist as well as a panel about Writing on Art and a reading by three NC-based writers.

(Image provided by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.)

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Black Mountain:
Was It a Real College Or Did We Just Make It Up Ourselves?
by Mary Emma Harris, Featured Speaker

26-28 September 2014—UNC Asheville, Asheville, NC

 Editor’s Note:
Mary Emma Harris is Chair and Director of The Black Mountain College Project. Hailed by Charles Alan Watkins as a “well-researched and handsomely illustrated history” of BMC, Ms. Harris’ groundbreaking study, The Arts at Black Mountain College (Massachusetts Institute for Technology Press, 1987), is an indispensable guide to the school’s history and curriculum that weds its praxis to its ideals and founding mission. This work continues to inform and inspire, serving as foundational text not only for scholars in the field but also for all interested in experimental education in America. Ms. Harris welcomed conferees at the sixth annual gathering at UNC Asheville with a formal talk, which formed the basis for this article. Lauding the school’s democratic ideas and progressive curriculum in the visual, literary, and performing arts, she celebrates the state of BMC studies, rethinks Black Mountain College’s history, and challenges us to see our creativity and innovation as part of the school’s legacy.

“Beginnings,” Anni Albers wrote, “are usually more interesting than endings” (52). Those of us writing about Black Mountain College and leading new institutions are pioneers. There will be those who come after us who will continue our work, but just as the experience of the founders of Black Mountain College or those who built the Studies Building was different than that of those who came after, our experience is unique and the responsibility great. When I first heard about Black Mountain College in 1968, I was starting with a blank page. I did not know who was at the college, when or why they were there, or what they did. The educational ideals were a mystery. There were no books to which I could turn. Pioneers had preceded me. Robert Moore at East Tennessee University had curated the first Black Mountain College exhibition. His papers are now at The Western Regional Archives of the State of North Carolina as a part ofThe Black Mountain College Project Papers. Martin Duberman had started his research, but his pioneering study of the college, Black Mountain College: An Exploration in Community (E.P. Dutton) did not appear until 1972.

I did not grow up in an academic or artistic family. I was one of six children raised by a single parent on a small tobacco farm in Eastern North Carolina. We received Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. I handed tobacco and worked a number of jobs. I attended Greensboro College, a small Methodist college, before enrolling at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In many ways BMC has been my education—my “higher learning.” Several years ago a BMC student confronted me with a daunting question, “What, Mary, if you have done all this work and nobody cares?” “That being the case,” I responded, “it has been well worth the journey.” As I write, there are exhibitions being organized in Europe and the United States, concerts in rehearsal, books in press, a movie being made, dissertations and theses in progress. Humbly, I am reminded of Josef Albers’ advice to youth:

 Calm down
what happens
happens mostly
without you. (n.p.)

Personally, I yearn to unbox my own research and to return to my work as an independent scholar. There are books there to be written. There is information that should be digitalized as a resource for those interested in the college. There is an extensive chronology with thousands of entries: a year-by-year roster of faculty, students, staff and family; the Advisory Council and the Board of Fellows; the officers of the corporation; plays, concerts and exhibitions; visitors; publications; and other material. Already I begin to mull over in the back of my mind the best way to put this together and how it might be a living resource with contributions and additions from scholars over time. I am beginning to explore possible institutional connections, which will insure its survival long after me. I only hope that I have enough years left to complete this work and for a few adventures.

Thankfully, many hard-working individuals and institutions with devoted staffs and volunteers are working diligently to preserve the history of BMC. By increasing our understanding of its complexity, its historicity, its richness, and its legacy, they make the past speak to us today. While there is much more work to be done, there is much to celebrate:

  • The Western Regional Archives of the State of North Carolina, which has the largest collection of Black Mountain College documents in the world. Its holdings are the foundation for any study of the college. I am so very pleased that the collections, previously housed in Raleigh, have found their way home to Western North Carolina. I would specifically like to thank Heather South for her untiring efforts to help researchers from everywhere. I would also like to thank Theodore Dreier, Jr., who is here today, and his sister Barbara B. Dreier, for the donation of their parents’ papers to the Western Regional Archives;
  • The Black Mountain College Museum+Arts Center located at 56 Broadway in Asheville, which is dedicated to exploring the history and legacy of the world’s most acclaimed experimental educational community and offers a wide range of exhibitions, a video archive, research materials, and a selection of books and other materials for sale. Its collections, exhibitions and programming are expanding our knowledge and understanding of the college and providing Asheville with a new and different voice in the arts. A recent grant from the Windgate Foundation is both witness to and guarantee of the longevity of BMCM+AC that has enabled it to expand its programs and facilities. This institution that helps sustain the arts in Asheville was the brainchild of Mary Holden Thompson, founder of the museum. Connie Bostic, Alice Sebrell, Brian Butler, and many others continue to make her vision a reality;
  • BMCS, The Journal of Black Mountain College Studies, an online peer-reviewed publication of BMCM+AC, which provides scholars with a coherent voice for the publication of their work. We thank its co-founders, Brian Butler and editor Blake Hobby, Alessandro Porco, who serves as its associate editor, and all who have dedicated their time and talent;
  • The Asheville Art Museum for its commitment to a comprehensive Black Mountain College Collection, which includes art of Black Mountain College students and faculty. The collection, an ongoing project, complements the BMCM+AC collection. I’m grateful to Pamela Myers and the museum staff for making it possible for me to bring into a museum collection a large body of material that needed a permanent home. The AAM, located at 2 South Pack Square, is a community-based, nonprofit organization established by artists and incorporated in 1948. Its focus is on Twentieth and Twenty-first Century art of the Western North Carolina and the Appalachian area.
  • The Black Mountain College Project (BMC Project), of which I am Chair, as it moves forward in the realization of its goals. Two years ago the BMC Project donated its collection of primary documents—photos and negatives, journals, student notes—to the Western Regional Archives, expanding significantly its holdings. The art works in the BMC Project collection were donated to the Asheville Art Museum. Presently, I am preparing 400 interviews and transcripts for an archive. Once the work of the BMC Project is completed, its assets will be donated to another institution, and the Project will happily dissolve, declaring, “Mission accomplished.”
  • The many private and public archives housing documents of those who taught and studied at the college: The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, The University of Connecticut in Storrs, The State University of New York at Buffalo, The Getty Research Institute, and Stanford University, among others. John Andrew Rice’s papers are at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina;
  • Scholars and artists worldwide who are doing careful, enlightening work on specific aspects of Black Mountain College and on the individuals who taught and studied there;
  • Those brave souls who taught and studied at Black Mountain for their courage, their wisdom, and their imagination. They have been my friends, my mentors, my critics and my teachers over many years.

Through the efforts of local institutions and others like them, Western North Carolina is now the epicenter for Black Mountain College studies.

It is important for those institutions and individuals in Asheville to remember that Black Mountain College settled near the Village of Black Mountain as a matter of chance. It was here that it put down its roots though it remained throughout its history an outsider. Almost a century after BMC’s founding, Asheville has embraced the college as its own. The Asheville institutions and all of us who seek to preserve and document the college’s history and influence should remember that these collections and the college’s legacy are held in trust. No individual or institution can claim ownership. The college was Black Mountain and Asheville. It was also New York, Boston, Berlin, San Francisco, Cambridge, Dessau and Frankfurt. It was John Cage and Lou Harrison. It was J.S. Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Virgil Thompson, Sir Edward Elgar and the Early Music. The college opened its doors to people of many nationalities, ethnicities, political beliefs and races. Its legacy should not be encompassed by a narrow provincialism that limits its history and our understanding of its significance.


“Was That A Real Poem
Or Did You Just Make
It Up Yourself?” (n.p.)

In his essay “Was That A Real Poem Or Did You Just Make It Up Yourself?,” Robert Creeley muses on a number of issues regarding poetry and the poet: What is a poem? Why does one write? The title is a question posed to another poet at a college reading: “Tell me,” the student queried, “that next to the last poem you read—was that a real poem or did you just make it up yourself?”

In his own search for an answer, Creeley turned first to his trusted 1935 edition of the The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current Englishand was horrified to find “’elevated expression of elevated thought or feeling, esp. in metrical form….’” He then turned to the more recent American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969) and found “the art or work of a poet” which he defined as a real “cop-out.” The definition Creeley articulates avoids both the formula and the cop-out. It is descriptive. It is complex. It requires the reader or listener to think and to respond: “It is equal wonder,” Creeley writes, “when the rhythms which words can embody move to like echo and congruence. It is a place, in short, one has come to, where words dance truly in an information of one another, drawing in the attention, provoking feelings to participate.” This definition requires that the individual listen, respond, and participate. It is nuanced and comprehensive. A poem is a “place.”

Was Black Mountain College a “real” college, or was it simply made up by a group of incompetent, unaccredited, idealistic, unemployed, disaffected, disillusioned, and disenfranchised professors? What is a “real” college? Following Creeley’s example, I turned to an early edition of Webster’s Dictionary in which Black Mountain was listed as a college in the end-materials along with other colleges. Here was one credential. I then turned to my well-worn Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (1965). There “college” is “An institution ofhigher learning [emphasis added] that gives the bachelor’s degree in liberal arts or science or both.” The definition goes on to describe it as an institution that offers certain instruction, the faculty and students, and the buildings where the instruction takes place. Until the 1950s BMC did not grant degrees, and when it did, they were not accredited.

In an essay “Fundamentalism and the Higher Learning” in the May 1937 issue of Harper’s Magazine, John Andrew Rice, BMC founder, addressed that very issue of “higher learning.” He challenged the assertion of Robert Maynard Hutchins, President of the University of Chicago and creator of the Great Books curriculum, that students should be introduced to “a common stock of fundamental ideas” gleaned from a select group of books deemed to be the “classics” or that a “fixed curriculum based on eternal truths” was a meaningful education (587; 594).

“’In general education…,’” Hutchins had posited, “’we may wisely leave experience to life and set about our job of intellectual training.’” Rice points out the disparity between “logic” and “truth.” Simply reading and thinking, he observes, does not prepare the student for life. He asserts that experience is essential to education, but that is the quality of experience that counts. Language, he notes, is only an “approximation” of thought. Feeling plays a role. In Nazi Germany, he warns, well-educated people with their emotions raised by a “house-painter” turned to “savagery.” “While intellection was being sharpened and polished, savagery was going its way, waiting for a chance. If we think this cannot happen here we are fools” (588-90).

The “higher learning” Rice suggests is “to follow the Socratic direction to teach the young how to become, not how to be, philosophers and to show them that in their quest for certainty the only thing on which they can rely with assurance is the experience of the quest.” “Education,” he proposes, “instead of being the acquisition of a common stock of fundamental ideas, may well be a way of learning of a common way of doing things, a way of approach, a method of dealing with ideas or anything else. What you do with what you know is the important thing. To know is not enough.” Rice’s Plato class was less about Plato than it was about the Socratic method. Students were challenged to examine their assumptions and beliefs as a step toward the process of becoming philosophers (592; 595).

Rice concludes his essay with a statement which for years puzzled me: “When every day offers the adventure of seeking the word for the meaning rather than the meaning for the word, when action and word merge and become one, then shall we have the higher learning in America, and not before” (596). Robert Creeley understood that the definition for the word should not determine the meaning (or experience). Instead the experience should define the word.

The issue today is the possibility that the “real” Black Mountain College is being lost in the frenzy of excitement over the more luminous events in its history. Almost fifty years ago when I first heard about Black Mountain College, it had for the most part disappeared from memory. A few in San Francisco and some in the Massachusetts area knew about the college through the Black Mountain Poets, which carried its name. Frequently, those in education dismissed it as an interesting but failed experiment in American education that had no lasting influence. Now in the second decade of the Twenty-first Century, its influence is undeniable. For most, however, the college is associated with a few names—John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller—all of whom were there for only a few months as guest faculty members. Unfortunately, its educational ideals are less known and often reduced to a few clichés: No grades, work program, farm. The danger today is not so much the unconsidered dismissal of the college as it is an over-inflation of the small modest school and a distortion of its history. The danger is that the educational ideals and the dynamics of the small community, the foundation on which the college thrived, are being oversimplified or ignored.

I encountered the myth early in my Black Mountain journey. When I entered the art department at Washington University in St. Louis and asked about a former student from Black Mountain College, a student working in the office responded, “Oh, Camelot!” It is all too possible to romanticize BMC, to forget that there was magic but also there was a dayliness to classes, farm work, study and committees. It is all too easy to forget the struggle each year to raise money and pay bills. It is all too easy to forget that all this was not easy.

In his novel The Longest Ride (2013), Nicholas Sparks writes of the life-changing experience of Ira and Ruth, a young couple who visited the college on their honeymoon in the summer of 1946. Ruth exclaims in wonder, “‘…to think that it was all there, at a small college in the middle of nowhere! It was like finding….’” And Ira finishes, “’A treasure chest!’” “‘It was Abstract Expressionism!’” (194). In an effort to enhance the experience of the honey-mooning couple, Sparks places Willem and Elaine de Kooning at the college in the summer of 1946 along with “Ken and Ray and Robert,” when, in fact, that summer only Ray Johnson was in attendance, and Abstract Expressionism was not introduced until two years later. Nevertheless, Ira purchased for Ruth six Abstract Expressionist paintings one each by Ken, Ray, Elaine, and Robert and two by “Elaine’s husband.” (This is probably the only instance in which Willem de Kooning has been referred to as “Elaine’s husband.”) Even in fiction to recreate the historic facts of the college to enhance a story is to create a double-fiction and to distort our perception of the “real” Black Mountain. Likewise, for scholars to condense the college’s history into a few luminous events, which actually were scattered over a period of twenty-four years, is to perpetuate the Camelot myth (197).

Last year when I conducted a tour of the Blue Ridge Assembly buildings, we entered a large auditorium with a capacity of hundreds. A representative of Blue Ridge noted that college concerts and performances took place there. When I commented that, in fact, they took place on an improvised stage in the dining hall, in the lobby of Lee Hall, or on occasion in the gym, someone noted that there would have been townspeople attending. In fact, twenty townspeople would have been a large turnout.

Is the “real” Black Mountain College relevant today? The issues of the arts in education, of testing, of the relevance of manual activities in a digital world and of the role of faculty and administration are contemporary themes. Recently, on the news a school was featured where the teachers, tired of having directives handed down, took over the school. As at Black Mountain, decisions are reached by consensus. Learning is project-based. The school principal remains though she does not have an office. In his New York Times 14 August 2014 editorial, “Don’t Dismiss the Humanities,” Nicholas Kristof notes how parents of students in the humanities are concerned that their children will be “dog-watchers for those majoring in computer science.” He argues that “the humanities are [not] obscure, arcane and irrelevant” because it is through the humanities that we come to understand the world.

A poem is a place; likewise, the “real” Black Mountain College was aplace. It was a complex landscape— vibrant, interactive, torn by conflicting personalities and ideals, and often dull. It was a “made-up” world affording innumerable higher learning experiences that redefined the possibility of what a college might be.

Works Cited

Albers, Anni. On Weaving. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1965. Print.
Albers, Josef. Poems and Drawings. New Haven: Readymade Press, 1958. Print.
Creeley, Robert. “Was That A Real Poem Or Did You Just Make It Up Yourself?” Sparrow 40. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, January 1976. Print.
Kristof, Nicholas. “Don’t Dismiss the Humanities.” New York Times. 14 August 2014. Print.
Rice, John Andrew. “Fundamentalism and the Higher Learning.”Harper’s Magazine 174 (May 1937): 587-97. Print.
Sparks, Nicholas. The Longest Ride. New York/Boston: Grand Central Publishing, 2013. Print.

Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: G Merriam Company, 1965. Print.

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