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BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Arts at Black Mountain College Mary Emma Harris MIT Press 315 pages, $45. The greatest danger to Black Mountain College now is not that its legacy will be lost but that its truly radical nature will be forgotten,” writes Mary Emma Harris in the preface to the revised edition of her book on one of the most unusual and influential schools in the United States. It was at Black Mountain College that John Cage staged his first Happening, Merce Cunningham formed his dance company, and Buckminster Fuller built his first dome. Among the faculty were Anni and Josef Albers and Willem de Kooning. Albert Einstein and Carl Jung served on the board of advisers. The students included Francine du Plessix Gray, Robert Rauschenberg, Ray Johnson, and Ben Shahn. Anais Nin, Henry Miller, May Sarton, and Aldous Huxley all made visits to the school. Admittedly, the College was ephemeral, operating for less than three decades located in sparsely populated, unknown Black Mountain, North Carolina, and small, enrolling fewer than 1,200 students over the entire course of its existence. Yet despite all this, this progressive, non-traditional institution was the starting point for a remarkable and diverse collection of artists who made up the American avant-garde of the 1960s. In the years since its closing, Black Mountain College is often misre membered as a loosely cobbled together experiment, an ill-conceived venture, an anarchist or Communist enclave with little lasting significance. Even the author, a native of the area, had never heard of the school until she was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 11 years after Black Mountain College closed its doors. Harris decided to investigate further.Years of research and interviews resulted in the original version of the book, published in 1986. Harris continues to serve as principal researcher for the Black Mountain College Project, which seeks to preserve artifacts, release interviews, and publish information about the school for future generations. The revised edition of The Arts at Black Mountain College., with a new foreword, is the definitive history of the artistic component of this enigmatic institution. \(With the exception of its final years, Black Mountain College offered a full liberal arts program, but the author focuses on its most notable achievement, bringing the study of fine arts from the fringes to the core of its curStarted in reaction to more traditional schools of the time, Black Mountain College was created when classics professor John Andrew Rice lost his position at Rollins College in Florida due to his controversial, anti-administration ideas. With colleagues from Rollins and elsewhere, he wanted to form a college “based on an idea of community among individuals working and learning together.” While searching for a physical home for this venture, they eventually located a collection of build ings owned by the Blue Ridge Assembly of the Protestant Church in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and the college was born. Black Mountain College was founded rather idealistically as a school that was to be governed equally by students and faculty, with a self-directed course of study that was free of requirements. Its setting was rural, and the artistic work produced at Black Mountain differed wildly from that of the Bauhaus, the seminal 20th century school of design in Germany that sought to create a new social order in its rejection of bourgeois architecture for simpler classical forms. Harris proposes that the school was in many ways the spiritual stepchild of the Bauhaus. The two shared in common an experimental educational philosophy that rebelled against academia, coupled with a belief in the social responsibility of the arts and education. In fact, the Bauhaus ended just as Black Mountain was in its initial planning stages. In 1933, the year Rice was dismissed from Rollins College, the Bauhaus was searched by Hitler’s storm troopers and the Berlin police, and subsequently closed. Rice and Dreier courted Bauhaus instructor Josef Albers, who with his wife Anni, a master weaver, emigrated to the United States, where they became part of the core faculty at Black Mountain. The college evolved with the times, establishing a mica mine to sell the mineral during World War II, securing GI Bill benefits, and first admitting African-American students in 1944. Its radical nature was often at odds with its surroundingson off-campus trips, students had to abide by North Carolina’s segregation customs.The residents of nearby Asheville had grown accustomed to sometime residents like Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, but were not prepared for the influx of the art school students who caused stirs when they showed up in town. Although most students and teachers left for larger cities in the late fifties, the lasting influence of the college is still felt in Black Mountain and Asheville, an area The Magic Mountain BY REBECCA BENGAL 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/5/02