LAURINBURG — If only you could have been there.
Some of the greatest modern artists of all time flocked to the small town of Laurinburg to speak and perform at the 1974 festival hosted by St. Andrews Presbyterian College.
The event was named after Black Mountain College, an experimental college once located in the western North Carolina mountains that closed in 1956.
Among its poets and students were Robert Creeley, Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Hilda Morley, and Jonathan Williams.
St. Andrews Presbyterian College, now St. Andrews University, held the first Black Mountain College Festival to celebrate the history, the mission, and the arts of Black Mountain College. A panel of those who experienced that first festival 42 years ago recently shared stories that came from the event that returned to Laurinburg this month to run throughout the semester.
“We didn’t know any better, ” said longtime SAU professor Dr. Neal Bushoven III, when explaining the naivety of the St. Andrews community in the 1970s thinking that famous artists might travel from distant places to reach Laurinburg.
“Robert Creeley loved it, he told me students would come up to him and ask if he would read the poems they had written and he thought that was great. This was something the artist at the top of his medium was not used to.”
Creeley, most famous for his poetry, also taught at the University of Buffalo as well as Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Former St. Andrews professor and festival organizer, Dr. F. Whitney Jones said the idea for the festival came from former SAPC creative writing professor, Dr. Ron Bayes, who proposed there should be a festival and Jones should plan it.
Jones was able to lure practical philosopher and inventor, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, the great American modern dancer, poets Creeley and Jonathan Williams, American composer, John Cage and many others. The common similarity with these pioneers of the arts was their alma mater, Black Mountain College.
“You cannot create something because everything has already been created, but you can discover something new everyday,” Jones said quoting Fuller.
Founded in 1933 by the classics scholar John Andrew Rice and the engineer Theodore Dreier, Black Mountain College was a progressive institution based in Black Mountain, a wanted “to place art making at the heart of a liberal arts education.”
This year’s festival events include “poetry readings, prose readings, art exhibits, dance performance and open mic readings for anyone to express their artistic abilities.”
The festival will also feature three art exhibitions in the Vardell Art Gallery: Jonathan Williams’ Outsider Art Work through Sept. 23; Photographs and Tapestries of Dobree Adams with poems by Jonathan Greene from Sept. 30-Oct. 21; and Basil King Art Work from Oct. 28-Nov. 19.
Basil King and Martha King, both alumni of Black Mountain College who met and married after meeting there, are scheduled to read poetry and prose on Thursday, October 27, at the Ronald H. Bayes Lounge of Orange Hall on the St. Andrews campus.
There is also the possibility that Mary de Rachewiltz, the daughter of Ezra Pound, may appear. The festival concludes November 19 with a panel discussion on the future of Black Mountain College on Saturday, November 19.