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Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Material
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Mary Caroline Richards papers
    Date (inclusive): 1898-2007, bulk 1942-1999
    Number: 960036
    Creator/Collector: Richards, Mary Caroline
    Physical Description: 120 Linear Feet (228 boxes, 2 flatfiles)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: Papers document Richards's work as a scholar and teacher of English literature, her a poet, potter, and translator, and finally her lectures, workshops, and writings in art education. The papers emphasize the 1940s and 1950s, the period during which Richards taught at Black Mountain College.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record   for this collection. Click here for the access policy  .
    Language: Collection material is in English .

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Mary Caroline ("M.C.") Richards, self-described "teacher, writer, lecturer, potter, poet," was born in 1916, and received her Ph.D. in English from the University of California at Berkeley in 1942. She taught English both at Berkeley and at the University of Chicago before joining the faculty of Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina, a school that had a formative role in postwar American art in 1945. She and her husband Bill Levi became prominent members of the Black Mountain community; she in writing and literature, he in philosophy and as rector from 1947 to 1948. In 1948 Richards and her students started the Black Mountain Press which they used for literary publications and to print Richards's first volume of poetry. That same year she met the composer John Cage, who had just joined the summer faculty and who that summer produced Erik Satie's play Le Piége de Méduse , performed by Buckminster Fuller and Merce Cunningham, directed by Arthur Penn, and translated by M.C. Richards. Richards served as chair of the faculty from 1949 to 1951, participating actively in the many conflicts between various factions in administration and faculty. She was instrumental in bringing the poet Charles Olson to the faculty in 1951. He served as rector from 1953 until the college closed in 1956.
    After the summer session of 1951, Richards resigned and left for New York City with pianist and Cage associate David Tudor. She returned to Black Mountain the subsequent summer to participate in an event that came to be known as the first "happening," organized by John Cage and also involving Robert Rauschenberg, Charles Olson, David Tudor, and Merce Cunningham. During her time in New York City she translated, at Tudor's suggestion, Antonin Artaud's Le Théatre et son double, which was published by Grove Press in 1958 to wide acclaim. In 1954 Richards, Tudor, and Cage, among other former Black Mountain faculty, became a part of the Stony Point community in Rockland County, New York, founded by the architect Paul Williams. In 1964, the same year she left Stony Point, her book Centering: In Pottery, Poetry and the Person was published by Wesleyan University Press, followed in 1973 by The Crossing Point: Nine Easter Letters on the Art of Education and in 1980 by Toward Wholeness: Rudolf Steiner Education in America. These books reveal a very personal view of the development of the individual through art and life and, combined with her extensive teaching and lecturing throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, were widely influential in the arts education and craft communities. Mary Caroline Richards died in 1999 in New York City.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Mary Caroline Richards papers, 1898-2007, bulk 1942-1999, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 960036.

    Acquisition Information

    The collection was acquired in 1996. Additions to the archive were received in 2009 and 2015.

    Processing History

    Philip Curtis (with assistance from Kelly Nipper) arranged, processed and described the collection from 1996 to June 1997. He completed the finding aid in June 1997. In 2012, approximately 42 linear feet of additional materials were received from Richards's estate and integrated into the archive by Laura Schroffel. These materials can be found in boxes 84-220. She also integrated oversize material that was formerly Series IX into the appropriate topical series of the finding aid. In 2013, Natasha Hicks further processed boxes 1-84. Two boxes of materials received from the estate in 2015 were incorporated into the collection by Emmabeth Nanol in 2017.

    Separated Material

    Separated books were incorporated into the Getty Research Institute library general collection, and may be found by searching for Mary Caroline Richards papers

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The papers of Mary Caroline Richards gather together a lifetime of work in several artistic disciplines and touch upon many others. Richards's career saw a progression from scholarship and teaching in English literature, to freelance work as a poet, potter, author, and translator, to work in arts education through lectures and workshops. During this time she established close relationships with a large number of people, as may be seen through her correspondence, which is remarkable for its intimacy and warmth. Her correspondents include representatives from virtually every artistic discipline and many of the major American art movements of the 1950s through the 1980s.
    The papers give special emphasis to the period during which Richards served on the faculty of Black Mountain College in the 1940s and 1950s. Here began many of the associations which connect her to the music and art worlds, through friendships with David Tudor, Lou Harrison and John Cage in music, Merce Cunningham and Remy Charlip in dance, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan (loosely known as the "Black Mountain Poets") in literature, and Lyle Bongé and Joe Fiore in the visual arts. Her involvement with theater began at Black Mountain College with her translation of plays by Cocteau and Satie, and continued after her departure when she became the first English translator of Artaud, acting on an interest which began at Black Mountain.
    Included in the collection are manuscripts, correspondence, diaries and notebooks, books, photographs, slides, clippings, ephemera, posters, audio tapes, and artwork (including oil paintings and drawings in pencil, ink, chalk and pastels).
    Items counts are approximate.

    Arrangement note

    The collection is arranged in nine series: .Series I: Black Mountain College and its critical reception, 1945-1999; Series II: Correspondence, 1904-2007; Series III: Writings, 1905-1999; Series IV: Workshops, lectures and exhibitions, 1944-2005; Series V: Clippings and Ephemera, 1951-2003; Series VI: Diaries and notes, 1948-1999; Series VII: Artwork, 1955-1998, undated; Series VIII: Memorabilia, personal miscellany, 1898-2003

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Steiner, Rudolf, 1861-1925
    Richards, Mary Caroline
    Olson, Charles, 1910-1970

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    Black Mountain College (Black Mountain, N.C.)
    C.G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology
    Haystack Mountain School of Crafts

    Subjects - Topics

    Pottery -- Study and teaching
    Poetry -- Study and teaching
    Arts -- Study and teaching -- United States
    Arts, American -- 20th century
    Education -- Philosophy
    Dance -- Study and teaching
    Art -- Psychology

    Subjects - Titles

    Toward wholeness Crossing point Centering in poetry, pottery and the person

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Color slides
    Color photographs
    Gelatin silver prints
    Drawings (visual works)
    Photographs, Original


    James, Charity
    Kazanis, Barbara
    Higgins, Dick, 1938-1998
    Iozia, John
    Olson, Charles, 1910-1970
    Richards, Mary Caroline
    Lane, Mervin
    Supree, Burton
    Robertson, Seonaid M. (Seonaid Mairi)
    Tassencourt, Shirley
    Tudor, David, 1926-1996
    Barfield, Owen, 1898-1997
    Berensohn, Paulus
    Bilderback, Carolyn
    Mac Low, Jackson
    Blum, Fred H.
    Bongé, Lyle
    Boyd, John M.
    Cage, John
    Cable, Herb
    Conner, Julia
    Charlip, Remy
    Duncan, Robert, 1919-1988
    Cunningham, Merce
    Forczek, Leszek, 1946-
    Fairbanks, Jonathan L.
    Geiger, Nicola
    Frances, Molly
    Harrison, Lou, 1917-2003
    Green, Jesse
    Herlihy, James Leo