Dec 19

December 19

Like so many of her Black Mountain College cohorts, Elizabeth “Betsy” Schmitt came to BMC in 1944 with one form of artistic path in mind: furthering her skills in the family business of stained glass. She was instead diverted to a passion for dance. Betsy left for NYC in 1945 to further pursue dancing, working with modern dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham.

In 1948 she and new husband, Peter Jennerjahn, an abstract painter, returned to BMC where she taught dance and together they led a “Light Sound Movement” workshop which is thought to be a precursor of John Cage’s Theater Piece #1 (which happened at BMC the following summer) and the actual “happenings” movement of the 1950s. Pieces included dance, poetry/spoken word, slide projections, visual and musical layers: truly multi-media performance art pieces. Black Mountain College museum continues this tradition with their “{re}happening” fundraising events at Lake Eden each year.

Elizabeth Jennerjahn continued to dance after leaving BMC but later turned to textile arts, creating fabric collage pieces using fabrics that she wove and dyed herself, likely drawing on much of her learnings from her classes at BMC.

Warm old color photograph (perhaps colorized?) of a white woman wearing a tight fitting shiny brown tank top and flowing burgundy skirt with eyes closed, head tilted upwards, hair in movement, arms bent at the elbows and reaching upward with fingers spread out. Bottom of photo in darkness with what looks like shear brown curtains in background
Elizabeth Jennerjahn dancing in the dining hall at BMC, 1949

Links for Further Exploration

Invitation to Creativity

The Jennerjahn’s “Light Sound Movement” workshops were creative collaborations of many creators. Fiber arts are innately collaborative, even when we are knitting or crocheting pieces all by ourselves. We usually knit or crochet a pattern written by someone else; we craft with yarn that is the end product of fiber farmers, spinners, and dyers. Our finished object then has a life of its own on whomever ends up receiving and wearing it. As a bridge between our previous exploration of documenting and now considering collaboration, take one fiber project and trace, as much as is possible, all the collaborators that went into its being. Some questions to consider as you consider your project:

  • Yarn: where did the fiber come from? what animals or plants? what country? Where was the yarn spun? Where was it dyed? What is the location of the company that sells it? Where is the store or fiber festival that you purchased it?
  • Pattern: Who designed your project? Where do they live? What other things have they designed?