Raleigh Rambles

John Dancy-Jones at large!

John Cage Legacy Anchors BMC Conference

The 12th annual ReVIEWing BMC conference starts tomorrow and I will be giving away a very special booklet. I was so amazed to find out that John Cage made paper, no less with Beverly Plummer, the first NC papermaker of whom I was aware, with the idea of eating a poem. He is the focus of this year’s conference, and so I created my most elaborate BMC project so far. I assembled a collection of fibers and other ingredients and combined them using random pairings and combinations. Cage used the I-Ching for the chance operations that were a hallmark of his work, but I just made item cards, shuffled chosen blindly to make groups.

The materials from the list were combined with a small dose of grocery bag, cotton linter, and potato starch. Each sheet yielded 4 bookmark samples for the booklet.

The papers are lightly attached and so if anyone really wanted to eat their poem, they could, and I hope they will let me know how that goes. Thanks to Julie Thomson, BMC scholar, who hand beat the hibiscus fibers, and to Alice Sebrell, who bestowed the salvage cotton bond paper used for the booklet itself. The BMC spirit lives on and is celebrated and enacted each year at this wonderful event.

Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center

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November 11, 2021 Posted by | art, Black Mountain | , | Leave a comment

Plague Daze Zine Features in Asheville Zine Fest Exchange

September 20th, 2020 marks the scheduled day for the Asheville Zine Fest, a long standing venue for the numerous micro-publishers in Asheville as well as zinsters across the state. The Paper Plant was set to participate, and I was very excited to network with other publishers and display the Paper Plant catalog at The Center for Craft in downtown Asheville. Alas, the event was cancelled but then replaced by a wonderful idea: a zine exchange among the publishers. That motivation pushed me to one last version of Plague Daze, the May 2020 mail art project that I also had converted to poster form for a mail art show at The Flood Gallery in Black Mountain. Above is the zine I created along with a spread of the zines I received in the exchange.

The packet I received contained a predictably wild variety of graphic designs and content. The organizers used the now-closed Asheville Bookworks as headquarters, and Laurie Corral, Jessica Smith and Mica Mead and Colin Sutherland of Woolly Press,  a west Asheville publisher and risograph shop, worked to make this happen. I enjoyed all the entries, particularly Laurie’s risograph project “Forager’s Favorites,” and a wonderful textless mini-comic by Carrboro artist Julia Gootzeit called “B-Sides.”

I enjoyed all the entries and hope to meet many of the publishers in person at next year’s Zine Fest. A dominant theme in the collection above is risograph work, which was new to me until I discovered Woolly Press a while back. To quote the School of Design at the University of Illinois,

The Risograph is a stencil duplicator. Think of it as a cross
between screen printing and photocopying. The Riso prints
one color at a time in bright, vibrant colors. It is ideal for
posters, graphic prints, zines, comics, and other graphic arts.

Each color requires a separate print run. The colors are like strong watercolor tones, and I like the effect very much. Asheville is a hot scene for alternative arts, and zines and fine art printing are no exception! Below is a description of the rather laborious process used for my own contribution.

Plague Daze started as a mail art project sent out on May 1, 2020. Rubber stamping was the primary means of making images, with collaging of hand-laid paper some monoprinted and marbled. The poster version I created featured a collage and marbled version of the “40 days” concept from the mail art piece. That image, along with the art of guest artists, was color photocopied and then cut out and glued on to the background pages. Those pages are my secret ingredient for this zine. In printing covers for my book, The Natural History of Raleigh,” I set aside a ream of 11×17 copier paper to use in clean-up. The excess ink was removed with these, leaving strategic marks of the curved platen, the brayer marks, and various accidents of the cleaning motions. I collected over 200 of these and when the call for a zine came, I knew these were the perfect background for some pandemic content! Enjoy the contents of my zine below, and be safe!

Connie Bostic is a founder of the River Arts District in Asheville, and a leading figure in the Black Mountain College Museum community.

You may recall that Mary’s booklet, reproduced and stapled into the middle of the zine, was featured, along with the Anna Weaver poem below, in a post here. (full size scans).

Bonniediva is a mail artist with whom I came into contact through a national mail art organization.

Sure honored to have this set of zine publications for the Paper Plant archive of zines and other alternative art and publishing from the 1980’s.

September 20, 2020 Posted by | art, literary, mail art | , , , | Leave a comment

Jacob Lawrence in BMCM+AC’s New Space Highlights Annual Conference

The 10th annual BMC conference takes place September 28-30, 2018 at the Reuters Center on UNC-A’s campus. A show of work examining his work and life at BMC opens September 28th in the BMC museum’s new space. This will be the 8th out of 10 I have attended; in recent years I have started creating a printed hand-laid paper object to give out. Above is this year’s, using a quote from the website of the Jacob and Gwen Knight Lawrence Center. Looking forward to it!

September 27, 2018 Posted by | art, Black Mountain | , , , , | 1 Comment

At BMC Conference, Performances and Activities Rival Academics

my pre-conference project

my pre-conference project

Late September 2014 brought the 6th edition of Re Viewing: Black Mountain College, and my experience, as always, was to be re-invigorated with the vast lessons to be learned from attention to the process and people who inhabited that magical place between 1933 and 1957. This year’s conference had writing as its theme, but the over-all thrust of the events took us well beyond the Olson era at the end of the college’s life, which is usually the focus of BMC literary topics.

Dewey at Rice show

The conference is sponsored by the Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center, whose reception for an art show of Dan Rice’s work is seen above. The BMCMAC is growing fast, with a growing permanent collection of BMC art and a newly announced expansion in downtown Asheville. Their conference has been held past two years at UNC-A’s Reuter Center, a lifelong learning institute which serves as a slightly cramped but otherwise excellent venue. It was well attended by presenters from across the country, with a small international contingent as well. A special feature of the conference is the appearance of individuals directly connected to the college, and this year’s prize was Ted Dreier, Jr, who spent his childhood there as his father Ted Sr. played a major role in college life and the business/finances of BMC. Ted Jr. shared many stories during the Sunday campus tour. It was also a great pleasure to meet the grandson of John Dewey, whose educational philosophy was a foundation of BMC.

IMG_6596

Jeff Davis prepares to distribute playing card decks

The simultaneous events always means selection and rejection (or sneaking out and listening a bit). I started with electing for a writing workshop with Jeff Davis, who helped inspire the cut-up project pictured at the top of this post. Jeff had us participants write two words on a deck of 52 cards he provided. Then we dealt ten out and built poems with the selection using a couple of different procedures. We were emulating the “procedural writing” process used by BMC alumnus Jonathan Williams in writing his poem “Mahler: for Symphony No. 7 in B Minor.” It was fun and Jeff offered enthusiastic appreciation for the ironies and amusing juxtapositions in the poems as we shared them. Jonathan’s press, Jargon Society, is now under the auspices of the BMCMAC.

Ted whips

The next session also drew me to a decidedly non-academic presentation, where Ted Pope offered his unique brand of performance poetry. After a mesmerizing rendition of intricate classical guitar by his son, Ted set the tone for his own work by whipping his arrangement of antlers on a tree stump. This was followed by several energetic rants, including one that gave BMCMAC vice-chairman J. Richard Gruber “a whole new perspective on my home state of Kentucky.” Ted’s anarchic approach brings to life some of the spirit of the college, but also evokes a rich sense of the mountain man, wily and cultured in his own way, and helps define the sense of place that was a thread throughout the conference.

Brian Butler, Mary Emma Harris and Richard Gruber

Brian Butler, Mary Emma Harris and Richard Gruber visit the Lake Eden campus

Mary Emma Harris, preeminent BMC researcher, and Vincent Katz,  keynote speaker, focused on the growing international recognition of the importance and value of Black Mountain College studies and the profound model of experiential and self-directed education its history represents. The editors of the upcoming Anthology of Black Mountain College Poetry discussed their criteria, reflecting the strong literary importance of Olson and the Black Mountain poets as well as the diverse examples of good writing that permeated the entire span of the college’s existence. Ray Johnson, my default interest at all conferences, is included in the anthology, and his writing is also featured in two newly published books: a new printing of Paper Snake and Not Nothing: Selected Writings, 1954-1994, both from Siglio Press. I honestly did not attend enough hard core lectures to report on the literary ideas at the conference, but instead continued my trend of taking in the active and participatory opportunities. They continued to be very rewarding.

Mercedes listens and draws

Mercedes Teixido listens to BMC readings and draws

When I walked into “Notes for Time and Place, an Improvisational Drawing Performance,” I not only did not know what to expect, I did not recognize the mechanism sitting on the presenter’s table. I might have, because I had seen a much earlier version. Mercedes Teixido has arranged the construction of a Jeffersonian copy machine, built in consultation with the curators of Monticello, and she uses this marvelous machine in her art endeavors. We were given written instructions (in duplicate copies), to peruse the Black Mountain College titles spread out on the table, and to read a passage aloud when the impulse struck us. The written “rules” stated that if we read a passage, she would make a drawing, and we could have one. As a group, we took a little warming up but eventually all of the audience read something aloud, and just as with Jeff Davis’s “Chance of Magic” workshop, there were fun juxtapositions with and reactions to the readings.

Mercedes Teixido drawing machine

Mercedes herself just listened and worked quietly. She patiently placed twin sheets of paper into her marvelous machine after each drawing, and after some time she spread out the twin line drawings for display. We were invited to take one of a pair, leaving her with a documentary set. It was a truly unique experience, and we all bonded a bit through listening to each other read. It was one of the best acts of artistic community-building I have ever seen, and highly appropriate to this conference about a college where art and life, the interior mind and the artistic act, were irrevocably entertwined.

Monika and David

Monika Gross & David Novak stage a reading of selections from the correspondence of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov

The culmination of my conference experiences came with Re Weaving, a theatrical reading of letters between Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov. Monika’s work attempts to expand our perspective on theater through unusual spaces, modes, or interactions between actors and audience. This performance drew on the powerful phrases of the original exchanges between Duncan and Levertov, but also enacted the spirit of BMC itself with its fresh approach and innovative techniques. The selection, repetition and rhythm of the words built an amazing dynamic between two very powerful and convincing characters ensconced in a stripped down, yet utterly convincing physical set.

 Monika steps out

This was another performance  offered as an alternative to the academic presentations, this one outside on a patio of the Reuter Center, with the readers/actors under a rustic wooden trellis filled with vines.  A few simple props (most magnificently exemplified by a manual typewriter) served to evoke the personal spaces of two people who send their thoughts and feelings across the continent. At times, they react in real time to each other’s missives, at times the rapid exchanges represent an argument: there were no limiting rules in the creation of this dialogue. The power of the characters seems enhanced when they take their inner thoughts outside of the defined theatrical space: when David Novak stalks the character of Robert Duncan up the landscaped slope outside the trellis, it is as if he has left the theatrical space but taken us with him, witness to his silent but fully projected thoughts. Monika, who also stepped away as seen above, did her own magic with space, joining the audience and thrusting her hand up like a precocious schoolgirl at the famous Mr. Duncan, asking him the questions that beleaguered this passionate but probably unconsummated intellectual couple. It was a strong, effective and moving performance, honoring and exploring the range of artistic modes that characterize Black Mountain College.

barn and silo

But wait! Hang in there for the BMC campus and farm tour!

Mary Emma dining hall

For me, the best was last this year. I finally took the Sunday tour, mainly because David Silver had asked me to read for his farm tour and I was thrilled to contribute, in a way however small, to this wonderful event. Mary Emma Harris started us with a tour of the original resort bought by Black Mountain College in 1941. Midway through her exposition of the dining hall and its central role in college life, Ted Dreier, Jr and his wife arrived, and Ms. Harris (as did David Silver later) graciously conceded the speaking stick to this true alumnus of BMC college life, as faculty kid and later as student. He shared wonderful memories about being allowed to sit at meals with students, about the tragedy of his brother’s accidental death and the memorial construction of the Quiet House, and the communal exchange of the bulletin board in the student-constructed Study Hall.

Mary Emma Harris and Ted Drier, Jr on the back porch of the Study Hall

Mary Emma Harris and Ted Dreier, Jr on the back porch of the Study Hall

The property purchased by the college is now divided: Camp Rockmount continues to host hundreds of boys each summer, but the upper reaches, including several original cabins and the farm area, still belong to the family who purchased the land from BMC in 1947. The son-in-law of that family, Leigh Maher, is on the BMCMAC board, and joined us for the tour of his part of property.

Silver and property owner

David Silver talks to Leigh Maher under the student-constructed Study Building

David Silver followed up his amazing multimedia event at the Hunt Library with a bang-up tour of the farm. He had several people read relevant passages as we stood in front of the barn and silo. Silver’s numerous presentations have made it clear that the the farm was central to the life and very existence of the college, and that its abandonment in the final years not only left the students hungry enough to eat frog legs, but signaled the coming doom of the end. And yet, as Mary Emma Harris said, the real point is that it lasted as long as it did on such precarious financial ground, and lasted long enough to generate waves of students and ideas that permeate American art culture to this day.

JDJ reads from Michael Rumaker at farm tour

JDJ reads from Michael Rumaker at farm tour

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October 21, 2014 Posted by | art, Black Mountain, literary | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Book Arts, Farming Fueled Black Mountain College

after Anni Albers

The 2013 Black Mountain College conference, held at UNC-Asheville, covered much ground, as always, with reflections and insights regarding the methods, influence and legacy of the experimental college that is both revered and obscured in the history of 20th century education and art. I always come away with one or more real breakthroughs in my thoughts about these topics, and this year the BMC farm program really came to light in the presentation of David Silver.  Tom Murphy spoke of the print shop and letterpress operations, and both of these sessions offered rich, practical examinations of the processes and their implications.  As always, the foundation of factual knowledge and interpretation laid down by Mary Emma Harris in her 1987 book, The Arts of Black Mountain College, is acknowledged and utilized by all presenters.  Ms Harris continues to lead BMC research efforts, and presented this year about BMC approaches to material studies. She showed how the low-budget humble materials used by Anni Albers and others provided a freedom and at the same time an enforced discipline on the students.  “You mustn’t forbid the possibilities of the materials,”  and in the notes of Ruth Asawa from Josef Alber’s class, “the whole cosmos is entertaining”.  These topics were applied to Asawa, BMC sculptural artist, by Jason Andrew, who showed how Ruth Asawa’s zero-based explorations of the culture of handicraft, and her highly artistic use of negative and positive space, helped lift craft into the perceived realm of art in the mid twentieth century. Christopher Benfey, the featured speaker whose ideas I discussed in the previous post, gave a keynote speech which emphasized a similar theme: “Starting at Zero!” Get your hands involved with available material.  Then make an honest response to the materials, including the industrial process involved.  The conference highlighted the synergy and profound influence derived from the joining of the design philosophy of Albers and the progressive education ideals of John Rice.  Experiential education and the approach of design as a “form of justice between man and material” made BMC the birthing place of many new currents in American art.

farm_black_mt_college

David Silver presents about the BMC farm

The BMC farm was a rich source of experiential education, surely, and its operations offered many practical lessons in form and design.  David Silver of the University of San Francisco described how students, with Ted Dreier’s supportive oversight, had a huge influence on the development of the farm. From Harris’s book: “In the first year [1934] a vegetable garden was started by Norman Weston [BMC student and “treasurer”] and other interested community members.  The college leased a 25 acre farm with a vineyard and apple orchard…” John Rice was not enthusiastic but didn’t mind as long as faculty obligations were not needed. In 1938 the farm went to the future Lake Eden, was expanded in 1941 and by 1944 “was producing most of the beef, pork, potatoes, eggs, dairy products and some vegetables used by the college” (Harris again). Last year and this, Silver offered  rich detail into how the farm emblemized the integrated systems, the balance of discipline and freedom, and the “use what you find” attitude that characterized much of the college’s history.  His research anecdotes, from local farmers such as Bass Allen, who taught the students how to farm, to the very Albers-like egg lists that recorded every oval, both entertain and enlighten. Mistakes, both horrible and hilarious, were made.  But students gained invaluable experiences, including the closest thing BMC offered in the way of physical education.  Molly Gregory, who taught woodworking and maintained the mechanical shop, took over the farm in the later years of the college and operated it at a profit.  Silver’s admiring portrayal of her BMC work showed that, like Asawa, she helped create an atmosphere that bridged the gap between artisan and artist, that found a space for sublime work of the hands.

Of particular interest to me was my own arena of artisanry; the letterpress printing and other book arts that were pursued at BMC.  Tom Murphy from Texas A&M Corpus Christi recounted printing efforts that were of practical help to the college but eventually played a role in the establishment of literary forces and the Black Mountain Poets as important threads in the history of BMC. Again with the support of Harris’s history, he described how Xanti Schawinsky, a noted graphic designer, helped obtain type and a press for a print shop in Lee Hall on the first Blue Ridge campus. The bulletins printed were “not flashy’ and in fact were conventional products that advertised the best face of the college to outsiders.  Students like Ed Dorn and John McCandless received hands-on learning and were able to design and effect their own projects.  The print shop had a long hiatus before and during the war, but in 1946 was resurrected as part of the wood shop and used in writing projects involving Jimmy Tite, Harry Weitzer, and Ann Mayer.  A visit by Anais Nin in 1947 was the catalyst for new literary publications, including Poems by M.C. Richards in 1948.  This set the scene for the Olson years, when BMC nurtured energies that traveled to the west coast, Paris, and North Carolina’s own Jargon Press, published by Jonathan Williams. (A fun footnote to the latter is that the BMCM+AC has acquired the imprint and publications of the Jargon Society!)

All of these insights need fuel themselves to become realized.  The first session of the conference highlighted the newly emerging resources for such work.  UNC-A’s Ramsey Library is digitizing and organizing web pages for several BMC collections. The Western Regional Archive continues to add collections,including the BMC Project papers, generated and collected by Mary Emma Harris.  The state archive has selected BMC documents in their online archive. The Black Mountain Studies Journal offers ongoing scholarship in the field.  Rich resources indeed!

Design is not decoration, design means an understandable order. It is understandibility.  It is not beauty. If it is understandable, it is beautiful.  Josef Albers

Book arts came up in one last surprising setting – Julie Thomson‘s highly stimulating talk on Ray Johnson’s commercial design work.  She offered the quote above and astounded the audience with images of standard New Direction titles whose covers were designed by Johnson and one of his mentors, Alan Lustig. She pointed out that Ray J had done prize-winning poster work back in Detroit, was a perfectly competent graphic designer – and helped promote the idea of integrating typography with visual art and design.

Congrats to the BMCM+AC for another great conference!

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November 26, 2013 Posted by | art, Black Mountain, food, green initiatives, Ray Johnson, reflection | , , | 4 Comments