In 1946, upon graduating from Spelman College in Atlanta, Mary Parks received a Rosenwald scholarship to attend Black Mountain College. She was one of two Black students who attended that summer. The decision to admit black students had been conflicted, with many from the local communities outside the school (Asheville & Black Mountain) protesting such a breach of local custom/law.
For Mary, BMC was not much different than Spelman in that there was integration of Black and white students & teachers. But at BMC, unlike Spelman, she was welcome to wear pants, go barefoot, to make her own schedule, and have her own art studio. She met life-long friends Ruth Asawa and Gwendolyn Knight (painter and wife of visiting artist Jacob Lawrence). She also met sculptor Leo Amino, a Japanese American, who told her about the Japanese internment camps. Mary had not known about the camps and was moved by his account. She took a War Relocation Authority flyer and used it in a painting about Leo’s story. This became her preferred medium, calling it “histcollage” ― where she layered photos and documents into her paintings.
Links for Further Exploration
- About Mary Parks Washington (on BMC website)
- INTERVIEW: “Surrounded by Cellophane”: Histcollages and Memories of Black Mountain College by Mary Parks Washington”
- Question Everything! Women of Black Mountain College Exhibit Overview
Invitation to Creativity
Mary Parks Washington included everyday documents from people’s lives to help tell their story in her art.
Walk around your house and find a few everyday printed documents: a receipt, something that came in the mail, a clipping from a newspaper or magazine, some packaging from food or some other item in your house…
Is there a connection between any of them? Is there a story that could be told? Arrange some of the items on paper and glue them down and then use oil pastels, collage, etc. around them to create a “histcollage.” Could even all be things related to your craft (a receipt, yarn wrapper, piece of a pattern).
What is the story that emerges?