Tag Archives: Black Mountain College

Treasures of Carolina: Summer Edition

Each week this summer we will highlight an item from our North Carolina Digital Collections in hopes of inspiring you to discover new-to-you materials. For the month of August our theme is school.


Erwin Straus at Black Mountain College. BMC Research Project. Series VII (Visual Materials). Box 91. Folder:North Carolina Division of Archives and History – Straus, Erwin.

Erwin Straus, a German-American philosopher and psychologist, taught at Black Mountain College from 1938 through 1945.  A German refugee fleeing from the growing anti-Semitism promulgated through Hitler’s rise to power, Erwin Straus and his wife, Gertrud (who also taught at Black Mountain College) were part of the growing population of refugee faculty.


A faculty meeting at Black Mountain College. From left to right: Robert Wunsch, Josef Albers, Heinrich Jalowetz, Theodore Dreier, Erwin Straus, unknown, Lawrence Kocher. Black Mountain College Records. Photographs. Folder 83.1.

With an emphasis in phenomenology (philosophical study of experience and consciousness) and neurology, Straus taught such courses as, “The Psychology of the Human World” and “Nicomachean Ethics.”  Erwin Straus was considered to be a serious teacher, a seeming rarity at Black Mountain College where professors were often known by their first or nicknames.  He was described by one student as, “… serious, humorless and on the extreme conservative side.”  Despite the somewhat reserved views held about him by the student population, he was influential in pioneering a holistic approach to medicine, treating the mind and body as a whole rather than just the individual symptoms.  Author of numerous books and articles, Straus’ works includes Language and Language Disturbances and On Obsession: A Clinical and Methodological Study.


Treasures of Carolina: Lorna Blaine Letter

[This blog post was written by Andrea Gabriel, Outreach and Development Coordinator for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Lorna Blaine Letter, 1942, Black Mountain College Project Papers, Western Regional Archives

First page of the Lorna Blaine Letter, 1942, Black Mountain College Project Papers, Western Regional Archives

Black Mountain College operated from 1933 to 1957 in Black Mountain, N.C. and attracted leading artists, both in this country and abroad, to their faculty including painter Robert Rauschenberg, composer John Cage, choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham, sculptor Ruth Asawa, architect Buckminster Fuller, and artists Joseph and Anni Albers.

This first page excerpt is part of a four-page letter written by Lorna Blaine (later Halper), an artist who attended the college. She wrote to her parents around 1942 using pictograms. Part of the excerpt reads, “Dear Mother and Dad, I really do not know how to thank you enough for the wonderful trip to Boca Grande. It even started off well on the train, that snappy Silver Meteor. Then all the tennis and swimming and sunbathing and loafing and food etc. Gosh but everything was so marvelous!”

Last page of the Lorna Blaine Letter, 1942, Black Mountain College Project Papers, Western Regional Archives

Last page of the Lorna Blaine Letter, 1942, Black Mountain College Project Papers, Western Regional Archives


A selection of the state’s historic documents will be exhibited in Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives of North Carolina at the Museum of History, October 24, 2015–June 19, 2016. Documents from the Archives vault, unique letters, historic photographs, public records, and other media will illuminate the myriad of ways in which the holdings of the State Archives document the workings of our government, provide evidence of civil liberties, and preserve the history and culture of North Carolina. This exhibit is sponsored by the Friends of the Archives and runs through June 19, 2016. Additional funding was provided by the N.C. Bar Association Foundation, the Raleigh Times, and Wells Fargo.

To learn more about the exhibit, please see: https://ncarchives.wordpress.com/tag/treasures-of-carolina/ and http://ncmuseumofhistory.org/See-Our-Exhibits/Current-Exhibits/Treasures.

See the State Archives Facebook calendar or Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources events calendar for more upcoming events.

A Housing for Cigarettes

[This blog post was written by Emily Rainwater, Conservator for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Closed housing for the David Tudor concert programs, BMCRP Series VI Box 76

New housing for the David Tudor concert programs, BMCRP Series VI Box 76. Click the image to see a larger view.

David Tudor (1926-1996) was a pianist and composer of experimental electronic music. He was an instructor and pianist-in-residence at Black Mountain College during the summer sessions from 1951-1953. On July 4, 1953 David Tudor gave a concert at Black Mountain College with programs printed on cigarette papers by BMC Print Shop. The State Archives of North Carolina holds two of these programs at the Western Regional Archives, one printed horizontally in red and one printed vertically in blue. These programs are in their original rolled cigarette form and remain filled with tobacco.

H-frame during construction for the David Tudor concert programs.

H-frame during construction for the David Tudor concert programs. Click the image to see a larger view.

David Tudor concert programs, BMCRP Series VI Box 76

David Tudor concert programs, BMCRP Series VI Box 76. Click the image to see a larger view.

The concert programs needed a new housing which would better protect the fragile objects. A support structure was created for them by cutting an “H” shape out of several layers of museum quality mat board. The legs of the H hold the cigarettes in place while the cross of the H allows for easier handling if they ever need removing from the housing. After adhering multiple layers of mat board together, the frame is thick enough to protect the programs from pressure coming from above. The cut edges of the H were lined with Japanese tissue to help smooth the transition between the layers. The H frame was adhered to several more pieces of mat board to form a backing layer. The completed frame was inserted into a custom cloth covered clamshell box which will provide additional protection.

A view of the new housing for the David Tudor concert programs, BMCRP Series VI Box 76.

A view of the new housing for the David Tudor concert programs, BMCRP Series VI Box 76. Click the image to see a larger view. A closer look at the programs is available through the NC Digital Collections.

WRA Partners with Documentary Film Makers for Unique Opportunity

Our collections are used daily by all sorts of researchers.  Scholars, genealogists, historians and documentarians visit us on a regular basis and while we help all with their exploration into the past, it is rare that the archives (or archivist) plays a feature role in the project we assist on.  That’s what makes the new Danu Collaborative Fully Awake project so unique and exciting for the Western Regional Archives.

Fully Awake: Black Mountain College is a documentary film created nearly a decade ago by Cathryn Davis Zommer and Neeley Dawson.  Through archival research, photographic history, interviews with former Black Mountain College students, teachers, artists and historians, the film gives a glimpse into the progressive liberal arts school hidden in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

“Black Mountain College (1933-1957) was an influential experiment in education that inspired and shaped twentieth century American art.”  It was a special place that inspired all who experienced it, so much so, that the long-term impact is still being studied today by scholars and artists from across the country and literally around the world.

neeley, catherine and dan 1

Cathryn and Neeley research acting for part of their project. Cameraman Dan said he loved filming at the WRA.

While there are many BMC projects using the collections at the WRA for research, only the Fully Awake project has collaborated with the archives and integrated the archival collections as part of their endeavors.  Thanks to new collections coming to light and advances in technology, Cathryn and Neeley are embarking on a new project to take Fully Awake further.

There are several goals of this new ten-year anniversary re-imagining of the film.  Not only will they be telling more of the story in more clear and profound ways, the most thrilling element for the WRA is that they plan on digitizing over 100 hours of original interview footage to be donated to the archives for permanent public use!

For more information about the project, check out archivist Heather South on the latest campaign update- she is super excited about the collaboration with Cathryn and Neeley: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fully-awake-a-black-mountain-college-documentary?c=activityheather- fully awake

Dancing in the Corn… Archives Week in Western North Carolina

Many of you already know but this week has been proclaimed to be NC Archives Week.  That means we really showcase our collections and advocate for archives and preserving the historical record beyond what we do the rest of the year.  This year, the theme is all about food culture in NC.  From farming to eating, we have documents and photos that capture it all.  In Western North Carolina, this year’s theme of “Home Grown! A Celebration of N.C. Food Culture and History” is being featured in a number of ways but none as interesting or exciting as Dr. David Silver’s work with the Black Mountain College Farm.

Josef Albers (left) hanging out in the cabbage patch

You may have heard about the college or some of its famous alumni and faculty but did you know those same folks were farming on the campus?  Can you imagine Josef Albers tending cabbage?  Or how about Merce Cunningham dancing in the corn fields?  Ok, so maybe we don’t have proof that  Cunningham was cutting a rug in the corn, but it could have happened!

Dr. Silver is an associate professor of media studies and environmental studies and coordinator of the urban agriculture minor at the University of San Francisco and is currently working on a multimedia history of the farm at Black Mountain College.  He has been using the collections at the Western Regional Archives and telling the food story of a college that normally is only looked at through artistic lenses.   Not only was he the first researcher at the WRA, he is a cheerleader for NC archives and continues to champion the collections we’ve preserved and direct scholars and students from around the world to NC!  Check out his blog http://silverinsf.blogspot.com/ or scope out the photos of his research journey and discoveries at flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidsilver/sets/

Who knows, you might just find out they were dancing in the corn!

Dorothy Cole eating in the dining hall at BMC

Landing Pages and the Bill of Rights

It’s been far too long since I’ve given you an update one what’s going with our online projects. First of all, we’re testing out the built in landing pages for the tool that runs the North Carolina Digital Collection. What that means for you is that there are now new landing pages for:

Both Black Mountain College and Women, Marriage and the Law are collections that have been around for a while but neither have ever had landing pages to introduce what the collections are and what you should (and shouldn’t) expect to find in them. War of 1812 Pay Vouchers is a new project that one of our archivists, Aaron Cusick, began loading in February. Currently 1,709 of the 5,000 vouchers are available online and we hope that the whole collection will be available very soon.

And now for the Bill of Rights – if you were one of the many people who attended the event this Monday, thank you for helping us celebrate this anniversary for one of our most important treasures. If you weren’t able to attend the event, the Department of Cultural Resources has a new YouTube video about the document and Monday’s celebration.

Other related materials include:

  • Many of the photos that I took during the day are available on our Facebook page.
  • The official photographs of the event are available through the Cultural Resources Flickr account.
  • Jeffrey Miles with the Dept. of Cultural Resources has set up a Storify page to capture tweets from various social media staff throughout the department about the Bill of Rights event.
  • You can always view North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights in our Treasures collection.

Don’t forget that we’re about to have another anniversary, this time for the Carolina Charter of 1663. If you missed joining us for the Bill of Rights celebration, perhaps you can join us as we spotlight the Carolina Charter on Monday, March 25, at the State Capitol. We’ll hope to see you there.

Racially Radical: Integration at Black Mountain College

The Western Regional Archives in Asheville presents an exhibit about the integration of Black Mountain College, a small liberal arts college in rural western North Carolina.  Black Mountain College has been called radical for both its vision and approach to learning and has been thought of as a strange compound of free spirits and hippies (before hippies were cool).  Many names and adjectives have been used to describe the unique institution in Swannanoa but for such a small,short-lived entity, the school left a lingering legacy that is being researched worldwide.

Helen Post Modley image from 1936, African Americans were a part of campus life at Black Mountain College even before their 1944 integration

Black Mountain College went against traditional norms of institutions of higher learning and attracted some distinctive faculty and students.  It’s most well-known for the exceptional level of art and artisans created there but perhaps the most radical element of Black Mountain College, often unrecognized, is its early path towards integration.

The campus was a community of diversity so perhaps integration was not that radical in the minds of the faculty and students, but examined within the context of location and time, suddenly the move to admit black students to their college becomes intensely profound.

We invite you to explore more about Black Mountain College and its 1944 integration through this exhibition featuring documents and images from the Western Regional Archives. This exhibit was created through the research and assistance of interns from UNC-Asheville, Lyndsey Henderson and Phillip Espisita and is on display through March 2013. The Western Regional Archives is located at 176 Riceville Rd., Asheville, NC 28805.

One of the exhibit cases showcasing the integration materials located at the Western Regional Archives