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Sewell Sillman

(1924 - 1992)
Sewell Sillman was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1921, and attended high school in Atlanta. Upon America’s entry into World War II in 1942, Sillman enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force Reserve while simultaneously pursuing studies in civil engineering at Georgia Tech, and later at Johns Hopkins University. He saw active duty in the European Theater in 1944 and ’45 and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.

Returning to America after the war, Sillman re-enrolled at Georgia Tech, this time with a focus on architecture. Eventually becoming disaffected with the “oppressive” atmosphere at Georgia Tech, Sillman followed his friends William Ragland Watkins and Albert Lanier to Black Mountain College, just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Sillman recalled that Black Mountain College “...gave me a chance to get rid of absolutely every standard that I had grown up with... It was like a snake that loses its skin... What was left was someone who had absolutely no idea in the world what to do.... It was marvelous.”

Faculty members at Black Mountain included former Bauhaus professor Josef Albers and his wife Anni, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, Walter Gropius and Robert Creeley. Among Sillman’s fellow students were Ray Johnson, Kenneth Noland, Robert Rauschenberg, and Susan Weil. Sillman initially continued his architectural studies with design visionary Buckminster Fuller, but it was his introduction to Josef Albers that would lead Sillman away from architecture to what would become a tireless lifelong push against the boundaries of visual possibility.

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