Updated versions of the Theodore and Barbara Loines Dreier Black Mountain College Collection finding aids are now available online, including an expanded finding aid for the series “Dreier Family and Black Mountain College Related Photographs and Negatives.” Both Theodore and Barbara Loines Dreier helped to found Black Mountain College (BMC) and remained an important part of the BMC community until they left the college in 1949.
If you aren’t aware of Black Mountain College, it was an experimental school located in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The college was established in 1933 by John A. Rice and others, many of whom were former students and faculty from Rollins College in Florida. The purpose of the college was to educate the whole person, with an emphasis on the role of the arts and creative thinking. Black Mountain College itself was owned by the faculty, with students playing a significant role in the decision-making process. Although grades were kept for transfer purposes, they were not used to evaluate a student’s progress.
Both faculty and students participated in the work program, which included the daily chores necessary for the upkeep of the school at the Blue Ridge campus. Later, the college purchased land nearby and the work program was expanded to include the construction of college buildings and the maintenance of an inn and farm on the Lake Eden property.
Despite the fact that Black Mountain College could rarely offer faculty more than room and board, a number of important teachers and artists were drawn to the school as part of the regular faculty or to participate in the school’s Summer Institutes. Josef and Anni Albers, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Max Dehn, Joseph Fiore, Buckminister Fuller, Edward Lowinsky, Robert Motherwell, Charles Olson, M.C. Richards, and Xanti Schawinsky were only a few of those who taught at Black Mountain College. In addition, the success of several of the college’s students (such as Ruth Asawa, Edward Dorn, Kenneth Noland, and Robert Rauschenberg) helped to further the college’s reputation in the area of the arts and the avant-garde.
The character and focus of Black Mountain College shifted over time, according to the make-up of the faculty and students. Personal and ideological conflicts were common and sometimes led to major changes in the college community. One such conflict was the topic of integration. Despite the concerns of some staff about possible negative reactions from the community towards the college, Black Mountain College had both African-American students and teachers in the 1940s. Lack of funds added to the stress of the situation at BMC, as did the school’s physical isolation. Eventually student enrollment and available funds dwindled until the college was forced to close in 1956.
We have quite a few collections that relate to BMC, including the official college records which can be searched in our online catalog, MARS. In fact, the North Carolina State Archives is the repository for the records of a significant number of defunct colleges in North Carolina. A full listing of Black Mountain College related collections can be found on our website and you can also read scanned copies of selected BMC publications, which present a glimpse into daily life at this unique institution.