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Posts Tagged ‘Black Mountain’

Brother Exum

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina women’s history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit on the women of our state’s past.

Lillian Exum Clement—called Brother Exum by her fellow legislators—was the first woman in the South to hold legislative office, taking her seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1921.  Nominated as a Democratic candidate two months before the Nineteenth Amendment granted her and other women the right to vote, she beat two male opponents in the primary by an astounding margin of 10,368 to 41.

Clement was born in Black Mountain in 1894, and she worked in the Buncombe County sheriff’s office while studying law at night. In 1916 she passed the bar exam and the next year opened her own practice. An active legislator, she introduced seventeen bills. She sponsored a bill to have the state assume control of a home for unwed mothers, garnering widespread opposition (she was pelted with eggs and vegetables while speaking on the bill’s behalf in Asheville). Clement did not seek reelection, but was appointed director of the State Hospital at Morganton. At age 31, she died of pneumonia and was buried in Riverside Cemetery.

In 1997 an organization to promote and support Democratic women running for public office in North Carolina was established. It took the name Lillian’s List, in honor of Clement.

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I am fortunate to be able to spend a good deal of time in and around Black Mountain.  I am always amazed at the breadth of talent and artistry in the area.  It’s not uncommon for a small town to have a creative atmosphere, but I’m always reminded of the days when Black Mountain was home to a remarkable experimental center of learning.

supine dome

The Supine Dome Model with Si Sillman (bending), Buckminster Fuller, Elaine de Kooning, Roger Lovelace, and Josef Albers, Black Mountain College, summer of 1948. Photograph courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico

Founded in 1933, Black Mountain College focused on fine arts education—but the education was not always text-book, so to speak.  The teachers and students lived together as a community and learned from one another.  One writer stated “As the college evolved, it assumed characteristics of a small college, a summer camp, a religious retreat, a pioneering community, an art colony and a farm school.”  In a way, it defies categorizing—it is, simply, Black Mountain College.

The list of teachers and students at Black Mountain College reads like a virtual who’s who of 20th Century arts, including musicians, painters, poets, actors, dancers, fiber artists, sculptors, and architects.  Names like Robert Rauschenberg, Walter Gropius, Robert Motherwell, Josef Albers, John Cage, Charles Olson, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham and Willem de Kooning.

The North Carolina Archives accepted the college’s administrative records after it closed in 1956.  The papers and the manuscript collections associated with students and faculty have long been popular with researchers who traveled to Raleigh from all over the world to study the influential college.  The archives’ collections related to Black Mountain College recently have been transferred to the new Western Regional Archives, officially opening on August 13 in Asheville.

John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Black Mountain College 1953 Summer Institute in the Arts. Black Mountain College Research Project Papers, Visual Materials, North Carolina State Archives, Western Regional Office.

Having the documents and photographs close at hand will surely be a great complement to Asheville’s  Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, a facility that explores and preserves the legacy of the college through exhibits and programs.  And, of course, North Carolina is known around the world for the breadth of its traditional and contemporary arts.  Learn more at the North Carolina Arts Council.

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