A Symposium in Rochester, New York

Growth and Youth by Josef Albers at RITThe Black Mountain North Symposium, a three-day conference and festival of the arts in Rochester, NY, will celebrate upstate New York’s experimental arts, whose lineage is partly traceable to the migration of artists and scholars from a radically innovative school situated in the hills of North Carolina from 1933 to 1957. This symposium is one of several North American events commemorating the centenary of poet and Black Mountain College rector Charles Olson.  In the collaborative and multidisciplinary spirit of that educational experiment, Black Mountain North will feature poetry and visual arts panels, as well as readings and performing arts performances.. We welcome scholars from other locals as well, especially those from further North!

When Black Mountain closed its doors, the exodus of students and faculty to San Francisco and New York City helped precipitate tremendous explosions of radical creativity. Closer to home, Charles Olson, Eric Bentley, John Wieners, and Robert Creeley helped transform the University of Buffalo into what has been labeled “Black Mountain II.” Ed Sanders in Woodstock, Albert Glover at St. Lawrence University, Don Byrd and Pierre Joris at SUNY/Albany, and Jack Clarke at Buffalo helped continue the Black Mountain poetry tradition, along with frequent visitors to WNY like Joel Oppenheimer, Jonathan Williams and Robert Duncan. Literary centers like Rochester’s Writers & Books and NY State Literary Center and Buffalo’s Just Buffalo and Hallwalls Gallery, as well as poetry societies like Rochester’s Just Poets and Poetry Society of Rochester and Albany’s Rootdrinker Institute, did much to find an audience for innovative poetry beyond the academy. Writers & Books also helped showcase the ASL Poetry Renaissance in the 1980s, a deaf poetry movement influenced by the Beat and Black Mountain traditions.

Robert Turner, who had built the kiln at Black Mountain, returned to Alfred University to teach ceramics for many years, and Alfred students Karen Karnes and David Weinrib also taught pottery at Black Mountain. The School of American Crafts at Rochester Institute of Technology also taught modern ceramics methods derived from the Bauhaus and Black Mountain.

Although groundbreaking RIT photographer Minor White never taught at Black Mountain, a number of kindred spirits did, including Aaron Siskind, who helped found Rochester’s Visual Studies workshop, Beaumont Newhall, who went on to direct the George Eastman House and teach at RIT, and photography critic and curator Nancy Newhall.

Beyond the principal symposium, “Happenings” will occur throughout Greater Rochester (and as far away as Albany) over the course of several weeks, including dance performances, art and photography exhibitions, film showings, and poetry readings.

Area Connections to Black Mountain College:

  1. The University of Buffalo featured former BMC faculty Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and Eric Bentley, as well as former BMC student John Wieners. John Cage visited often. UB was sometimes referred to as “Black Mountain II” and hosted a journal by that title.
  2. Former BMC faculty Robert C. Turner headed Alfred University’s Ceramics program
  3. Photographers Beaumont and Nancy Newhall taught at BMC, then moved to Rochester, where both taught photography. Beaumont Newhall was Curator of Photography at the George Eastman house (1948-58), and also Director of the Eastman House (1958-1971).
  4. Aaron Siskind, who taught photography at BMC, was on the Board of Rochester’s Visual Studies Workshop (VSW), which named their gallery for him. VSW founder Nathan Lyons edited and published a book on Siskind in 1965. Many area photographers have studied with or been influenced by him. University of Rochester professor (and RIT alumnus) Carl Chiarenza did his dissertation on Siskind at Harvard (1973).
  5. The Olson-inspired Institute for Further Studies and Curriculum of the Soul publications edited by St. Lawrence University professor Albert Glover and UB professor John C. (Jack) Clarke;
  6. A number of regional presses and magazines have carried on the Black Mountain tradition, including the Magazine of Further Studies, Niagara, Black Mountain II, intent, and Rootdrinker; as well as Frontier Press, White Pine Press, Benevolent Bird Press, BlazeVox, and Shufaloff
  7. Writers & Books has hosted many Black Mountain-affiliated poets in the past three decades.
  8. William and Martha Treichler, BMC alumni and back-to-the-land advocates, settled in Hammondsport, NY and started The Crooked Lake Review, a local history magazine.

RIT Connections to Black Mountain College:

  1. Harley Parker, former BMC faculty, Kern Professor of Communications, COLA, 1973
  2. Joel Oppenheimer, BMC alumnus, Gannett Professor, COLA and guest advisor of Signatures, RIT’s literary and art magazine,1985
  3. Beaumont Newhall, former BMC faculty; Lecturer in Photography, CIAS
  4. Josef Albers painting in the lobby of the George Eastman administration building (“Growth and Youth”), commissioned by RIT 1968-69. Albers also designed a textured loggia wall for RIT’s College of Science; the artist came to campus several times to oversee construction and hanging of the pieces.
  5. A number of COLA faculty, including Mary Lynn Broe, Linda Reinfeld, and John Roche, have studied with former BMC faculty like Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. There are doubtless many connections among RIT Photography and School of American Crafts faculty to BMC.
  6. Influence of Olson’s theories on the ASL poetry movement, as evidenced by NTID alumnus Jim Cohn’s book Sign/Mind and Miriam Lerner’s documentary Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox.
  7. Frans Wildenhain, Bauhaus-trained potter and sculptor taught at RIT for twenty years; his ex-wife Marguerite, also Bauhaus-trained, was briefly on the faculty of BMC
  8. Barbara Abrams, wife of long-time RIT English professor Sam Abrams, was a student at BMC
  9. Noted graphic designer Leo Lionni lectured at RIT; his papers were donated to the RIT Graphic Design Archive in 1997.
  10. The Alvin Lustig Collection, donated to RIT in 1986. This important designer taught at BMC.
  11. Pop artist Howie Green, author of Jazz Fish Zen: Adventures in Mamboland attended RIT: While attending RIT Howie gained first-hand exposure to color guru Josef Albers during the summer of 1968 while he was on campus creating the two large lobby murals in the administion tower. A memorable lunch with Mr. Albers left a strong impresson on Howie who was touched by Albers’ grace and humor. Watching Albers and his assistant paint the murals inspired Howie to pursue mural projects for his entire career. The following year Howie painted his own mural on the new RIT campus in the Student Union building


  12. Tom Cornell, Professor of Science Technology Studies at RIT, is a longtime contributor to the Treichlers’ Crooked Lake Review, founded by BMC alumni Bill and Martha Treichler.