By Elizabeth Cunningham
The maverick spirit of Black Mountain College appealed to Cynthia Homire’s adventurous nature. The place had aroused her interest while at Swarthmore High in Pennsylvania. Cynthia’s first direct connection happened while attending Windsor Mountain School in Lenox, Massachusetts. Three of her instructors, fresh from studies at Black Mountain, reinforced the progressive education she received at Windsor. She took a class with Jane Slater Marquis who had studied with the Bauhaus designer, artist, and art theoretician Josef Albers. The possibilities of montage, collage and painting excited Cynthia. Driven by the desire to learn more, she wanted to study with Albers.
Although her mother had championed Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania, Cynthia held out for Black Mountain College in North Carolina. She knew that the experimental, interdisciplinary institution, co-run by faculty and students, had served as an incubator for the American avant garde. From 1933 to 1957 the college attracted faculty and lecturers like Josef and Anni Albers, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, and M.C. Richards. Some of the students later became America’s leading designers, poets and artists, among them painters Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly. Cynthia applied to study at Black Mountain in 1949 and enrolled for the following year. To her disappointment, Josef Albers had just departed to head the Design Department at Yale University and was no longer teaching. Undeterred, Cynthia stayed on for four years. Her most influential teachers were poets Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, and the multi-faceted poet, potter, painter and translator M. C. Richards.
Students inundated Charles Olson’s class just to hear him talk. They found him fascinating. Throughout his life he encouraged many young writers. According to Cynthia, Olson tired of students coming only to listen to him. He issued an ultimatum: “Either write or don’t come to class.” She chose to write a story. After Olson read it, he said “If you write a hundred of these, I’ll get you published.”
What Cynthia had to say about her experience at Black Mountain College gives a taste of both her sense of humor and what life was like there for her as a young woman:
Yes, I have rubbed shoulders with the pantheon, a few bellies, too. Washed the floor Merce Cunningham danced on, then went leaping through his class. Jitterbugged with Rauschenberg, pointed out morels to John Cage, was instructed by Olson in long night classes to write from my roots, dirt and all, but take time out to dig up a few Mayans in Mexico. Shared steak with William Carlos Williams (he said “I know you”). Cooked a Chinese meal for Eliot Porter and David Brower (before David took to chewing each bite thirty times before swallowing). Breakfast with Brautigan. All these things happen if you are there for them and maybe you make pots for 30 years and then maybe you write poetry.
Instruction from M. C. Richards, who taught writing and produced plays and took pottery classes from Robert Turner, was casual and hands-on. When Cynthia wandered into the pottery studio, she found M. C. at work. When asked how to make a pot, M. C. told Cynthia to center the clay on the wheel. After success in drawing up the clay to make a cylinder, she asked M. C. what to do next. “You’re so smart, make a teapot,” she replied.
Then living in New York City, Cynthia worked for the Congress of Racial Equality. She kept in touch with M. C. when she asked Cynthia to housesit. In trade for tending M. C.’s garden and looking after her cats Cynthia could work in the studio. She also “filched” a carbon copy, rescued from the trash, of the first copy of M. C.’s book, Centering in Pottery, Poetry and the Person (1964). The book became an underground classic. Master potter Daniel Rhodes called it “a poem, a sutra, a tract, a confession, a revelation, a guide to art and life.” Its poems and essays, which argue for creativity and the richness of daily life, still resonate with Cynthia.
When she searched for a creative outlet, her mentor told her about the Clay Art Center in Connecticut. It was a place where “you could just go and be a potter.” For a monthly fee potters could house their wheels and equipment and have a space to work. Additional fees were charged for glazes and for firing their pieces. This suited Cynthia. In such an environment she was free to experiment with various forms of utilitarian ware, beginning with teapots, cups, platters and goblets.
While enrolled at Black Mountain Cynthia met fellow student Jorge Fick. They both took theater and Spanish classes. Cynthia recalls them practicing “silly Spanish” like Donde esta mi sombrero? A painter, Jorge was the last student to graduate from the school. With the Abstract Expressionist Franz Klein as his “outside examiner,” Jorge got his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1955. After a painting stint in New York City where his mixed-media compositions were exhibited at Stable Gallery with early works by Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg, Jorge reconnected with Cynthia in 1964. Then living in New Mexico, he said “We need a potter in Santa Fe.” Within a week the two married. Once settled in nearby La Cienega, the couple opened the Fickery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. From 1972 to 1983 they sold utilitarian stoneware made by Cynthia and glazed by Jorge until the time he “retired” so he could paint. Their life was full. On Saturdays they hosted a morning life drawing class. Afterward they lunched at the same Mexican restaurant. Cynthia and Jorge loved Weimeraner dogs and kept several of them over the years. At one time they had a pig named Pinkus. He was supposed to be a pot-belly pig but grew to be quite large and pushy. Accustomed to growing her own produce, Cynthia gardened every season and canned for the winter.
Everything changed when Cynthia’s eyesight began to fail. It caused her to move to Portland, Oregon in 1990. Her sister lived there and the city with its outstanding Service Commission for the Blind program helped Cynthia learn to live with sight impairment. Longing for New Mexico she moved to Taos in 1998. Among the people she already knew there were several fellow Black Mountain students, including Rena Rosequist and Barbara and Cliff Harmon. Cynthia became involved with the arts community and poetry replaced pottery. In 2008 she self-published and illustrated Insights & Outbursts, a collection of poems written between 2005 and 2007. Just recently she produced a whimsical series of collages using banana peels. One, a figure sitting with legs crossed, she titled Buddhana. As with Robert Rauschenberg, for Cynthia the world is her palette: her life is art, her art is life. Asked what’s important to her, she replies “Imagination,” then adds “And seeing where it takes you.”