M. C. Richards Ceramics

M. C. Richards (Mary Caroline Richards, Mary C) was an American poet, potter, and writer best known for her work “Centering: in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person”. Richards was born July 13, 1916, in Weiser, Idaho, and died September 10, 1999, in Kimberton, Pennsylvania. Richards was influenced by Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner, who believed knowledge of the spiritual world must be carried within oneself and Robert Turner.

ArtistM. C. Richards (Mary Caroline Richards)
BornM. C. Richards was born on July 13, 1916, in Weiser, Idaho, United States
DiedM. C. Richards died on September 10, 1999, in Kimberton, Pennsylvania, United States, at the age of 83
Known ForM. C. Richards was known for her work “Centering: in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person”
OccupationAmerican artist, poet, potter, and writer
EducationOregon Episcopal School. an American private, coeducational, college preparatory, day and boarding school in the Raleigh Hills area of Portland, Oregon
SpousesVernon Young (divorced), Albert William Levi Jr. (divorced)

She received her education at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and at the University of California at Berkeley. After teaching English at the Central Washington College of Education and the University of Chicago, she was recruited to join the faculty of the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she remained until the end of the summer session in 1951.

It was her teaching experience and artistic development while attending Black Mountain College that laid the groundwork for the majority of her professional work, which includes work as an educator and a maker. During her later years, she became acquainted with the work of Rudolf Steiner, and she spent the last years of her life at a Camphill Village in Kimberton, Pennsylvania.

Her teaching career began in 1985, while she was residing at the Kimberton Camphill Village, where she collaborated with Matthew Fox to offer workshops at the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, California, during the winter months. Mary Caroline Richards passed away in Kimberton, Pennsylvania, in 1999.

M. C. Richards Early Education And Career

M.C. Richards was born on July 13, 1916, in the city of Weiser, Idaho. Her family relocated to Portland, Oregon when she was a baby, and she spent the first few years of her childhood there. In 1935, she enrolled at the Oregon Episcopal School (then known as St. Helen’s Hall Junior College) to complete her high school education.

Reed College in Portland, Oregon, awarded her a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Languages, which she put to good use. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with an MA in English in 1939 and a Ph.D. in English and linguistics in 1942, both of which were awarded to her by the university.

She married Vernon Young in 1943 while working as an English teacher at the Central Washington College of Education in Ellensburg, Washington (marriage later dissolved). After that, she temporarily taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago, but she soon got disillusioned with the traditional academic setting. Isn’t that what an artist does? That’s what I’m saying while I chuckle.

While working as a professor at the University of Chicago, she met social scientist Albert William Levi Jr., with whom she fell in love and married in 1945. (their marriage was later dissolved while teaching at Black Mountain College).

M. C. Richards At Black Mountain College

Drawing of planned campus building overlooking Eden Lake at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina (1938) Architectural design by Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius (artist anonymous) Photograph with collage, ink, and gouache, on woven paper Scanned from exhibit at Harvard Art Museums  Unknown (designed by Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius) - Photo of original work taken in Harvard Art Museums  Public Domain
 File:Black Mountain College.jpg
 Created: 18 April 2019
Drawing of planned campus building overlooking Eden Lake at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina (1938) Architectural design by Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius (artist anonymous) Photograph with collage, ink, and gouache, on woven paper Scanned from exhibit at Harvard Art Museums

In 1945 Richards joined the faculty of the English Department at Black Mountain College, where she taught writing and literature, and where she served as (1945 became a) Faculty Chair from 1949 to 1951.

At Black Mountain College, M. C. Richards was one of the most popular teachers with the students. She grouped her courses under the general heading of “Reading and Writing” while including important elements such as literary criticism, creative writing, and dramatic literature. It was here that she began to make the transition from the academic career for which she had been trained and moved into taking a more creative approach in her teaching methods.

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 Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie.

In 1948 Richards and her students founded the Black Mountain Press. The purpose was to give students experience in typesetting and publishing. In addition, they published literary works, broadsides, and booklets. The Black Mountain Press published M.C.’s first book of collected poems, titled Poems as well as the short-lived Black Mountain College Review, not to be confused with the later Black Mountain Review edited by Robert Creeley.

Though intended as a series, only one issue (Vol. 1, No. 1, June 1951) of The Black Mountain College Review was printed, featuring a Noh play by Nick Cernovich, “High-Speed Computing Machines” by Natasha Goldowski, poems by Fielding Dawson and Joel Oppenheimer, linoleum cuts by H. Roco, and other contributions by Mary Fitton Fiore, Russell Edson, and Alex Kemeny. The editorial work was shared between M.C. Richards, Alex Kemeny, and Hazel Larsen. A second issue was set in type but never printed due to lack of funds.

While at Black Mountain College, Richards befriended student James Leo Herlihy, who went on to be a noted novelist, playwright, and actor.

When she resigned from her faculty position at Black Mountain College after the summer of 1951, she moved to New York City along with pianist and Cage associate David Tudor. There they joined John Cage and Merce Cunningham, where they collaborated with others to include Ray Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg, Susan Weil, Paul Taylor, and Viola Farber.

While in New York, she began to study pottery at the Greenwich House in Greenwich Village. She also began to work on the first English translation of Anton Artaud’s The Theatre and Its Double, which was published by Grove Press in 1958 to wide acclaim. Richards’s translation is considered the definitive English version of the essays and was instrumental in introducing Artaud’s work in the United States.

In summer 1952, she participated in Theater Piece No. 1 at Black Mountain College, an event that came to be known as the first Happening. It was organized by John Cage and also involved Robert Rauschenberg, Charles Olson, David Tudor, and Merce Cunningham.

In the catalog for her exhibition at the Tampa Museum of Art in 1991 with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Irwin Kremen, M.C. wrote about her experience at Black Mountain College as “challenging the intellectual imagination and being a time for a very alive and vibrant artistic community.” During her time there she was able to “think of her work as integrating the soul, the mind, and the muscle.” She was able to participate as a writer in the writing classes that she taught and developed a print shop there where she and her students could print their work. Her creative spirit creates with what is at hand. Focus is not on the materials used but the act of making.

M. C. Richards At Endless Mountains Farm

Upon her return to Black Mountain College in 1953, she studied ceramics with Karen Karnes and David Weinrib, who were both faculty members at the time.

A summer institute at Black Mountain College was hosting a pottery workshop for which Daniel Rhodes, Warren MacKenzie, and Peter Voulkos were all invited to teach pottery for three weeks each. This prompted M.C. Richards to reinvent himself as a “poet potter” who worked with clay.

Former Black Mountain faculty members Richards, Tudor, and Cage, as well as other former Black Mountain faculty members, were among those who lived in the Gate Hill Cooperative community in Stony Point, Rockland County, New York, when it was built in 1954 by architect Paul Williams.The land is now known as “The Land.”

A ceramic workshop was shared with Karen Karnes and David Weinrib in Stony Point, where she worked. It was while living in the Stony Point community that she published Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person. She had been there ten years when she wrote the book.

Her book, Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, was published by Wesleyan University Press in 1964, the same year she left Stony Point. It was 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, all published by Wesleyan University Press.

These books reveal a very personal perspective on the development of the individual through art and life, and when combined with her extensive teaching and lecturing throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, she had a significant impact on the arts education and craft communities in the United States and abroad.

In 1965, Richards’ old friend, potter Paulus Berensohn, purchased 100 acres of land outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, with the intention of establishing the Endless Mountains Farm art community. The colony was established in 1967. M.C. Richards came to the farm a few years later, in 1968, and worked alongside Paulus.

Due to a health scare, Berensohn had to leave Endless Mountains Farm in 1972, but the farm remained in the hands of the community. After a number of changes in ownership shares, M.C. Richards purchased the farm in 1993 and opted to focus her future efforts on Camphill Village near Kimberton, Pennsylvania, and thus sold her ownership interests.

Several living American female artists were featured in Mary Beth Edelson’s Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper (1972), which appropriated Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and collaged the heads of notable female artists over the heads of Christ and his apostles; M.C. was one of those notable female artists.

This painting, which addressed the role of religious and art historical symbolism in the subordination of women, went on to become “one of the most famous images of the feminist art movement,” according to the feminist art movement website.

M. C. Richards At University Creation Spirituality

Later in life, she worked as an art instructor at the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality (ICCS) at Holy Names College (now Holy Names University) in Oakland, California, where she was born. Matthew Fox, a former Roman Catholic and current Episcopal priest, created the International Center for Christian Studies (ICCS) (priest).

“Art as Meditation,” a course on which M.C. Richards will be lecturing at the University of Creation Spirituality, was invited by Matthew to join his faculty. It was there that she continued to teach throughout the winter, and she lived at the Camphill Village Intentional Community in Kimberton Hills, Pennsylvania, for the remainder of the year, while also continuing to give workshops at other locations.

Late-Career Of M. C. Richards

In Pennsylvania, she lived and worked as a volunteer at Camphill Village Kimberton Hills, an intentional living community founded on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, where the documentary film M.C. Richards: The Fire Within (2003) was shot. She passed away in 2005. She also helped with residents who had developmental problems while at the facility.

Public Collections Of M. C. Richards

  • Poems, Black Mountain Press, 1947-1948
  • Centering: in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, Wesleyan University Press, 1964
  • The Crossing Point: Selected Talks and Writings, Wesleyan University Press, 1973
  • Toward Wholeness: Rudolf Steiner Education in America, Wesleyan University Press, 1980
  • The Public School and The Education of The Whole Person, Pilgrim Press, 1980
  • Imagine Inventing Yellow: New and Selected Poems, Station Hill Press, 1991
  • Opening Our Moral Eye: Essays, Poems, Paintings, Embracing Creativity and Community, Lindisfarne Press, 1996
  • Backpacking in the Hereafter: Poems by M.C. Richards, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, 2014

Exhibitions Of M. C. Richards

  • Question Everything! The Women of Black Mountain College, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Asheville, NC, 2020.[18]
  • M.C. Richards, Centering: Life + Art — 100 Years, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Asheville, NC, 2016.[19]
  • The Shape of Imagination: Women of Black Mountain College, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Asheville, NC, 2009.
  • Imagine Inventing Yellow: The Life and Works of M.C. Richards, Worcester Center for Crafts, 1999.
  • The Black Mountain Connection: John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Irwin Kremen, M.C. Richards, The Tampa Museum of Art, 1992.


Black Mountain College image: By Unknown (designed by Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius) – Photo of original work taken in Harvard Art Museums, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78141351

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