1. Ask: What makes someone a North Carolinian? Discuss the question briefly with the class, and tell students to keep that question in mind. Then pose the following scenario:
As curators at the North Carolina Museum of Art, you have been charged to create a special gallery focusing on North Carolina art and artists. You must now decide which artists to include in this gallery. Since several artists in the Museum’s collection have associations with North Carolina but did not necessarily spend a majority of their lives here, you must decide if each artist is qualified to be included in the gallery.
2. Using Josef Albers as an example, model some of the issues students should consider when deciding to include an artist. What is a citizen? What does it mean to be a citizen? Are you born a citizen or can you become one? What, if any, difference is there in being a citizen of your hometown, state, or country? Questions such as What time period is this artist from? What important events occurred during the artist’s life? and How is North Carolina reflected in the artist’s work or life? can be used to discuss how an artist’s life and chosen subject matter are connected to North Carolina.
You may suggest students create a worksheet or note cards with this information to use in their assessments:
Artist: Josef Albers
Place of birth: Germany
Period of residence in N.C.: 1933–1949 (16 years)
Reason for residence: Art professor at Black Mountain College
North Carolina historical significance/Subject matter: Black Mountain College was founded during the Great Depression. The school brought world-renowned artists to the mountains of North Carolina. Albers, a refugee from Nazi Germany, guided the art program at the school for 16 years. He created work and led student exercises that would contribute to his research on color relationships as published in Interaction of Color.
Call a class vote to determine whether Albers should be included in the gallery.
3. Group students into curatorial teams of approximately four each. Instruct the teams to create a list of criteria for determining whether the following artists should be included in the gallery: John Biggers, John Beerman, Romare Bearden, and Robert Rauschenberg. If team members think that an important North Carolina artist is not included in the Museum’s collection, they can suggest works by that artist to purchase. In setting their criteria, students should reconsider the question What makes someone a North Carolinian? and the questions in Step 2.
4. Designate areas of the classroom for the groups to use as exhibition space. Have each team create a mini-exhibition of its proposed North Carolina Gallery featuring the works of artists chosen for inclusion. Groups may add works from other North Carolina artists featured in “North Carolina Connections.” Each exhibition should include the following elements.
Introductory panel: Text should explain the subject matter of the gallery, the group’s decision-making process, and the list of criteria the students created.
Wall labels for each work of art: Labels should include information about the significance of the work of art and why the artist was included in the gallery.
5. Have the students visit each team’s exhibition. Have each team available to answer questions. As a class, discuss student responses to the different exhibitions, and compare the criteria used by the different groups. How did each group approach its task? What are some challenges that museum curators face in their job? Did viewing the other teams’ exhibitions change your mind about works your group selected? What different views were presented about citizenship?
As a conclusion, have students write a response to the question How would you answer the question about what makes someone a North Carolinian differently now than you did at the beginning of the project?
Foamcore can be used as a support for the labels.
Black Mountain College and Mid-20th-Century Art in North Carolina
"High Spring" is one of more than 1,000 works by Josef Albers in which the artist explores color relationships by nesting a series of contrasting squares within each other. In this work, Albers examines how shades of blue, green and gray interact. The series goes beyond the association of colors with emotions (such as calm or melancholy with blue) to how the eye actually views color. Some combinations of colors appear to make the squares move in space. Other combinations produce a phenomenon called "after-image" that occurs when a viewer breaks a prolonged focus on an image to rest his or her eyes on a blank space and then perceives a reflection of the image with complementary colors and opposite light values. Albers published Interaction of Color in 1963 after more than a decade of teaching color at Yale University. Before Albers taught at Yale, he guided the art program at a small, experimental school in the Mountains of North Carolina called Black Mountain College.
How did Albers come to Black Mountain College in North Carolina?
In 1933, a small group of disaffected faculty members at Rollins College in Florida decided to start a new college that would place its emphasis on the arts and communal living, rather than on required courses and grades. They found land and a facility at Black Mountain outside Asheville, North Carolina, bringing avant-garde artists to a region known for traditional crafts. On the recommendation of Philip Johnson at New York's Museum of Modern Art, school organizers offered Josef Albers refuge from Nazi Germany to guide the art curriculum at Black Mountain. Josef and his wife, Anni, had both studied at the Bauhaus, a modernist art and design school in Germany, where Josef became a master teacher. The school closed under pressure from the Nazi regime in August 1933, and the Alberses came to North Carolina that fall. Internationally renowned artists that studied with Albers include Robert Rauschenberg and Asheville native Kenneth Noland. In addition to teaching, Albers helped bring other well-known artists to Black Mountain to teach at the school's summer arts program. Albers left the school in 1949, but the program continued into the 1950s. Nationally regarded artists who taught at Black Mountain in summer include painters Lyonel Feininger (1945), Jacob Lawrence (1946), Robert Motherwell (1945 and 1951), and Franz Kline (1952).
How did Albers produce the works of art?
Albers began work on the series Homage to the Square in 1950, only a year after he left Black Mountain. Each work was painted on the rough side of a piece of Masonite, a type of fiberboard. Albers would prime the panels with at least six coats of paint. He used unmixed paint that he applied to the panels in a thin and even coat straight from the tube, using a palette knife. Albers had different types of fluorescent lighting (some that cast warm tones, and some cool tones) in his studio that allowed him to assess the color interactions in different lighting environments. He often worked at night and noted that painting from a natural light source was not necessary, since most art is not viewed with natural light. The exact paint names and tones are noted on the reverse side of each panel. In an essay called "The Color in My Painting," introducing an exhibition of his works at the North Carolina Museum of Art in 1962, Albers wrote of his colors: They are juxtaposed for various and changing visual effects. They are to challenge or to echo each other, to support or oppose one another. The contacts, respectively boundaries, between them may vary from soft to hard touches, may mean pull and push besides clashes, but also embracing, intersecting, penetrating.