August Issue 1999
Black Mountain - My Kind of Small Town
by Tom Starland
As the official paper boy of Carolina Arts, I spend a lot of time roaming around cities and towns in both North and South Carolina. They range from the towering behemoths of Uptown Charlotte, NC, to the architecturally "frozen in time" cobblestoned streets of Charleston, SC. My travels also include smaller towns like Beaufort, SC, voted one of the Top 100 Small Art Towns in America, to Seagrove, NC, where every other resident is a third generation potter who owns and operates a studio/gallery - there are over 100 located throughout this small community. But, there is one place that I travel to each month where I never seem to want to leave - It's called Black Mountain. And, for someone who has to deliver papers to a hundred different places in a dozen different towns each day - that's bad news. Well, not so bad.
The name alone conjures up numerous scenarios - The battle
of Black Mountain. The Black Mountain Feud. Gold was found yesterday
on Black Mountain. Jake jumped off the Black Mountain bridge last
night after he saw his woman with another man. Other names just
don't roll off the tongue as well, such as Grandfather Mountain,
Whiteside Mountain, Sassafras Mountain, Paris Mountain. These
names pretty much say one thing. But, Black Mountain, now there's
a name for a mountain.
Now they say, and we all know who they are, that Black Mountain is the Front Porch of Western North Carolina. I'm not sure what that means, but I can see myself sitting in a rocking chair on that porch.
On my first trip to Black Mountain, now several years ago, it was an early spring day, and I had just finished delivering my papers there around 5:30 in the afternoon. I headed back to the old van and started to see people streaming through the streets - it seemed like the entire town was heading for a beer at their favorite watering hole. I wanted to join in and tell a few tales of my day, but I had a six hour drive, with a few more stops, before I got home and it would be dark in a half hour.
I remember during that long drive home thinking off and on
- those folks back in Black Mountain are having a good time. Those
folks in Black Mountain are feeling real good right now. I bet
some of those folks are yodelling to the mountains by now, and
the mountains might be yodelling back. That envy left an impression
on me even though I go back there month after month. Some say
it was the mountain spirit beckoning me to linger. But, I really
think it was the spirit of a good time vs. a six hour drive. Well
anyway, Black Mountain has left an impression on many folks around
The other day I met a couple of art lovers in a gallery in downtown Charleston visiting from California. They were volunteers at the Orange County Art Museum and before long we were talking art of the Carolinas and out of the blue one asked, "Do you go to Black Mountain?". I was a little surprised how that got into the conversation until the subject of the Black Mountain College arrived. I would venture to say that more people from outside the Carolinas are aware of Black Mountain College than those who live here. And, for a college that closed in 1957, that's amazing.
Everywhere I go - you mention Western North Carolina and you're going to hear a response of any combination of three references - The Folk Art Center, Penland School, and Black Mountain College. The other two are still very active, but it is truly amazing how the legend of Black Mountain College lives on. After the first couple of times I heard about it I asked where it was. After learning that it hasn't existed for almost four decades I had to do some research and learn something about this college.
First off, Black Mountain College wasn't located in Black Mountain
the town, but on Black Mountain. It was closer to the neighboring
town, Swannanoa, located near Lake Eden and today's Warren Wilson
College, just a few miles down I-40 or Hwy. 70, going towards
Asheville. This liberal arts college, which started in 1933, was
an experiment in higher education by a group of educators led
by John Andrew Rice. The faculty was made up of people such as,
Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Franz Kline, Willem
de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell and Buckminster
Fuller - to name a few. The alumni includes: John Chamberlain,
Edward Dorn, Kenneth Noland, Arthur Penn, and Robert Rauschenberg
- to name a very few. The college had a unique setting, with an
incredible faculty, being run under a philosophy of freedom unlike
today's modern university structures.
Black Mountain College is an article in itself. It had a tremendous
impact on why Western North Carolina is known for not only folk
arts, but contemporary arts too. Today, the Black Mountain community
is building another arts center which is sure to have an impact
on the future of the region - it will be called the Black Mountain
Swannanoa Center for the Arts. The Center's first phase will be
focused on the renovation of the old City Hall of Black Mountain,
which is located near the intersection of State and Dougherty
Streets. The Center will be a regional arts facility which will
focus on cultivating all forms of art through education and availability.
That's a pretty big goal for such a small community, but they're
doing it there.
Future Black Mountain Swannanoa Center for the Arts
OK, we've hit the past and the future, but what about now? Well, besides Black Mountain being one of my favorite towns to visit, with its galleries, watering holes, and overall atmosphere, I'll give you some other reasons to check it out and see how you like it.
On alternating 2nd and 4th Saturdays this summer and into the fall, there will be free Evening Gallery Strolls and Downtown Concerts. The Gallery Strolls, taking place Aug. 14, Sept. 11 and Oct. 9, include 11 art and craft galleries in downtown Black Mountain. (You can check our Gallery Listings for details about the galleries.) The Strolls start at 4pm and continue until 8pm. The Concerts, taking place Aug. 28, Sept. 25 and Oct. 23, will take place at various locations around the town and will feature music ranging from traditional mountain music to opera. On Sept. 25, 50's and 60's music by the West End Cruisers will include the tune, "Jammin' in Your Jammies" in conjunction with Black Mountain's 2nd Annual Bring Your Own bed Race, taking place that Saturday.
But, before you start putting wheels on your bed, you may want to come to Black Mountain for the 22nd Annual Sourwood Festival and Carnival taking place on Aug. 14th and 15th. This event includes carnival rides for the young and young at heart, arts and crafts booths by local and regional artists, music & dancing (including a talent show), an evening Gallery Stroll, an exhibit at the Black Mountain Library by the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League and many more events.
Later in the fall as the weather turns cooler, there is the Lake Eden Arts Festival, which takes place twice a year in May and Oct. But, just remember - it's always cooler in the mountains than it is in the midlands and coastal areas of the Carolinas. That's a reason enough to go to Black Mountain.
Black Mountain is just a 2 hour drive from Charlotte, NC; a little under 3 hours from Columbia, SC; 4.25 hours from Charleston and just 5 hours from Wilmington, NC. But, just remember, if you go to the front Porch of Western North Carolina, save a rocking chair for me.
For further information, you can call the Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce at 828/669-2300, or visit their town on the world wide web at: (http://www.blackmountain-nc.com).
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Copyright© 1999 by PSMG, Inc., which published Charleston Arts from July 1987 - Dec. 1994 and South Carolina Arts from Jan. 1995 - Dec. 1996. It also publishes Carolina Arts Online, Copyright© 1999 by PSMG, Inc. All rights reserved by PSMG, Inc. or by the authors of articles. Reproduction or use without written permission is strictly prohibited. Carolina Arts is available throughout North & South Carolina.