Women of Black Mountain College | Hazel Larsen Archer

Black and white photo of a young white woman (Hazel Larsen) with short curly hair wearing a pale tank top posing for the camera.
Hazel Larsen at Black Mountain College, c.1952. Photograph by Marie Tavroges Stillkind. Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

“At Black Mountain, there was individual revolution.”

– Hazel Larsen Archer

Photographer and educator Larsen (1921-2001) went to Black Mountain College in 1944, and became its first full-time photography teacher in 1949, teaching significant students including Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Stan VanDerBeek.

Contracting polio aged 10, she spent 3 years in hospital before going to high school. A teacher wrote: “She is paralyzed in both legs below the hips and has heavy braces. She walks with crutches. With the help of a friend she has climbed three high floors each school day for four years.” She used mobility aids for the rest of her life, “but those years in bed,” she said, “have made me begin to see things in a different light.” Her works capture an extraordinary sensitivity to bodies in space. 

She had met Ruth Asawa at Milwaukee State Teachers College, and encouraged her to apply to Black Mountain, where Larsen studied composition, design, colour, writing and photography. Teachers noted her “delicate imaginative quality” and “sensitive perceptions”. By 1947, Josef Albers reported “almost no studying” in his design classes, “as she devoted all her time to photography in which she did excellent work.” She photographed college life. Her shots of Merce Cunningham dancing in sequence capture his movement through space and time. Her series of the Quiet House (built in memory of a deceased faculty child) record changing patterns of light. Explore #HazelLarsenArcher for more.

She later ran a photography studio in Arizona, and in 1963 became director of adult education at the Tucson Art Center. Though her work had been shown at major institutions, she stopped exhibiting after 1957, focusing on life as an educator, informed no doubt by Black Mountain. The “individual revolution” she described there, she said, “comes about when we sort of get a picture of ourselves, an awareness of what is going on around us… And this kind of awareness brings about again its own spontaneous action that is unpredictable. And this is the utter joy of living this way.”

Follow our #WomenOfBMC series to discover some of Black Mountain’s pioneering women.

Black and white photo of a classroom, with young people sitting around on chairs and boxes watching the teacher (Josef Albers) who is crouching down at the front demonstrating something on a piece of paper.

Josef Albers teaching a class at Black Mountain College, c.1946. Photographer unknown. Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Banner image: Hazel Larsen at Black Mountain College, c.1952. Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.