March 29, 2013. Writer and art curator Tom Patterson will discuss the Black Mountain College Festival and the influence it had on his career Thursday, April 11, at Appalachian State University.
His talk is titled “Reconstituting Black Mountain: Reflections on the Black Mountain College Festival at St. Andrews College, 1994.” It begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Great Hall in the Living Learning Center off Bodenheimer Drive on campus. The public is invited to attend.
A Southern-based writer, independent curator and former small-press publisher, Patterson has always pursued an autonomous path. Internationally known for his books, essays, critical reviews and exhibitions on visionary and outsider art, he has led an adventurous life constantly engaged with an array of contemporary artists, writers and other cultural figures.
Patterson grew up in Dublin, Ga., and graduated in 1974 from St. Andrews College in Laurinburg. A pivotal experience during his student years was the Black Mountain College Festival, held at St. Andrews in the spring of 1974. This series of readings, performances and artists’ residencies introduced Patterson to several former Black Mountain students and teachers.
This festival was a primary inspiration for his writing career in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Particularly influential on his thinking and activities were his longstanding friendships with avant-garde composer John Cage and poet-publisher Jonathan Williams, who became a mentor to Patterson in the 1980s and led a folk-art research project for the Jargon Society, the small press Williams initially operated from Black Mountain College in the 1950s. Among other results of Patterson’s work under Jargon’s auspices were his first two books, “St. EOM in The Land of Pasaquan” (Jargon Society, 1987) and “Howard Finster: Stranger from Another World,” (Abbeville Press, 1989).
After working as a reporter for a couple of small-town newspapers in the mid-1970s, Patterson settled in Atlanta and soon developed a reputation as a hard-working magazine journalist with special interests in both nature and culture. He was a staff writer for the now-legendary Southern travel magazine Brown’s Guide to Georgia from 1978 until 1982, and he wrote freelance articles and reviews for Atlanta Magazine, Atlanta-based Art Papers and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Patterson also served as director and publisher of Pynyon Press, a non-profit publisher of small-edition literary and graphic-art books.
Patterson started writing about contemporary art and artists around 1980. In the early 1980s he began focusing particular attention on “outsider art” in the South, first in several magazine articles, and later in books and exhibitions that he organized as an independent curator. In 1985 he moved from Atlanta to Winston-Salem to work with Jonathan Williams on the Jargon Society’s Southern Visionary Folk Art Project, a three-year effort to document examples of this non-academic art in several southern states. His first curatorial project, a 20-artist show titled “Southern Visionary Folk Artists” (co-curated with Roger Manley) opened in early 1985 and broke new ground in introducing this type of work to contemporary art audiences. Patterson has gone on to curate a number of exhibitions at museums and art galleries across the United States.
In addition to his books on St. EOM and Howard Finster, Patterson is the author of “Contemporary Folk Art: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum” (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 2001) and several exhibition catalogs. Since the early 1980s his writings have appeared in art magazines including afterimage, American Ceramics, American Craft, Aperture, ARTnews, Art Papers, BOMB, Folk Art, New Art Examiner, Public Art Review and Raw Vision.