Women of Black Mountain College
June 1, 2018 to August 2, 2018

View all pieces by Lorna Blaine Halper.

Lorna Blaine (b. 1924) grew up in Hewlett, Long Island. She spent her summers on the family farm in Jaffrey, New Hampshire where she tended her pet goat Jigs. Her father, Graham Blaine, was a banker, and her mother, Katharine Tweed Blaine, active in social causes. In 1942, after graduation from Chatham Hall in Virginia, Lorna enrolled at Barnard College in New York. Soon she “defected” to the Columbia UniversityArt School across the street.There she learned about Black Mountain College (BMC). Her parents also had heard about the college. Disturbed by rumors of Communism and nudism, they forbade her enrolling. When Fannie Hillsmith, their proper New Hampshire neighbor who had been Lorna’s childhood art teacher, accepted an appointment to teach at the 1945 Summer Art Institute, they agreed to let Lorna enroll with Hillsmith as her chaperone. 1 In the fall Lorna Blaine applied to Black Mountain as a regular student. 2 She returned for the winter quarter and remained though the spring of 1948. In December 1947 she married Tasker Howard, Jr., a former student who had returned to teach economics.At the end of the 1948 spring semester, the Howards moved to NewYork. In addition to the general curriculum, Lorna studied art in the summers with Robert Motherwell, Lyonel Feininger, and JeanVarda and with Ilya Bolotowsky when Josef Albers was on sabbatical. She also took Mathematics forArtists with the eminent — and at BMC beloved — geometer Max Dehn, and woodworking with Mary “Molly’” Gregory. It was Albers’s classes, especially color and design, that were to have the greatest influence on her work. Recalling her years at Black Mountain, Lorna noted, “You have to grow up somewhere.That was a wonderful place to grow up.”3 Intensely shy in large groups, she made lifelong friends with several students, among them Ruth Asawa, Ray Johnson, William “Willie” Joseph, Eleanor Smith Leon, Joan Stack Sewell, Oli Sihvonen, Lucy Swift, and Elaine Schmitt Urbain. Letters to her mother speak of intense classes with Albers and others, of spontaneous parties in the student studies building, of rising at six a.m. to work on the farm, of the college’s many crises and of camping alone in the woods to escape the closeness of life in the community. 4 The college was also a place of healing. Lorna’s brother, Harry Blaine. had been killed on June 15, 1944 in the assault on Saipan in the Pacific, and in 1946 her close friend and Columbia mentor Richard Burgess died of cancer. In the fall of 1946, she used $1,000 of her small inheritance from her brother to make it possible for RuthAsawa,who had enrolled for the 1946 summer session, to remain at the college. During the 1950s, Lorna worked in New York at America House,a retail outlet for crafts,and,after Howard’s death in 1952, briefly in Japan for UNESCO. In 1956, she 1 Interview with Mary Emma Harris, 30 May 1987, BMC Project. 2 The requirements for enrollment at the special summer sessions in the arts were less rigorous than for admittance as a regular student. 3 Interview, 30 May 1987. 4 Letters from Katharine Blaine to Lorna Blaine (Howard), 11 March 1946 - June 1948, BMC Project. 5 Interview with Mary Emma Harris, 11 July 1997, BMC Project. 6 Interview, 11 July 1997. — Mary Emma Harris married the novelist Albert Halper,and in 1968, they moved to a small house with a studio near Pawling, NewYork. When her mother commented on the rigidity of Albers’s exercises, Lorna responded that Albers was teaching them to see the “bones and the muscle” of the visual world and that it was up to the students as to how they used his teaching. 5 During the 1950s she struggled with this powerful legacy.In Pawling,away from the expectations and restrictions of the New York art scene, a distinctive style evolved which, although it draws on Albers’s studies in figure-background, illusion and color, is unquestionably her own.The spiral motif, which she had used in her earliest work, was transformed into “spiral guy,” a “lifelong companion” who has allowed her to do “zillions of things…I can fly to the moon with the spiral guy…”6 Lorna Blaine Halper exhibited with Cisneros Gallery, Weyhe Gallery and Bodley Gallery in New York. She lives and works in Pawling, NewYork