Miriam "Mim" Sihvonen

Courtesy of Western Regional Archives


Art/ Design/ Craft




1946 - 1949




Of the four Sihvonen children, three attended Black Mountain College. Miriam "Mim" Sihvonen was the oldest and the second to enroll from 1947 to 1949.

Both parents were first-generation immigrants from Finland. Until their father lost his job with Doubleday Doran as a carpenter and maintenance worker in the Depression, the family lived in Baldwin on Long Island. They then moved to Voluntown, Connecticut where the parents ran a poultry farm.

After graduation from high school in 1937, Mim Sihvonen attended nursing school in Hartford, Connecticut. During the war she enlisted in the army and served for three years as a registered nurse. She first served at airfields in the United States and then was stationed in Paris and near Reims with the 198th General Hospital.

After she was released from service, Sihvonen returned to Connecticut for Christmas and then, eager to experience a bit of freedom after nursing school and then the army, bought a car and drove with a friend to San Francisco where she worked for a brief time. She returned to Connecticut for Christmas and enrolled at Black Mountain College for the 1947 spring semester. Mim Sihvonen recalled reading Louis Adamic’s "Education on a Mountain" in Reader’s Digest while in service in Europe. Later when her brother Oli told her he was going to Black Mountain, she replied, "But that’s where I’m going."

Oli Sihvonen, the first to be released from service, enrolled a year before his older sister. Although Sihvonen thought when she arrived that she might be a writer, she recalls that it was the Work Program to which she was drawn. She helped Mary Gregory raise the farm house roof to accommodate two families and worked independently on other woodworking projects. She made several frames for Josef Albers and delicate bowls on the lathe. She also took a general curriculum including a course in Proust with M.C. Richards, Geometry for Artists with Max Dehn, and music appreciation with Charlotte Schlesinger.

She took charge of the Work Program, scheduling the various assignments. Mim Sihvonen spent the summer of 1948 in Voluntown, where she and her sister Eini – with their father’s help – converted an old garage into a house for Eini. The next summer at Camp Woodlea, a summer camp in Salt Point, New York run by the mother of another student Gerda Slavson Cooke, she worked as "housekeeper" – washing sheets, cleaning tables and helping with unruly campers.

That summer she visited Redbrick Camp, the summer camp run by Agnes O’Neill for the Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C. She then taught second grade for a year at the Georgetown Day School and enrolled at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Washington to study woodworking. She also studied with an independent carpenter. In Vermont she had worked briefly with Mary Gregory at her woodworking shop and decided to open her own shop in Kensington, Maryland where she lived. The shop survived for about two years doing mostly small jobs such as furniture refinishing and small furniture.

When Sihvonen returned to nursing, she was an operating room nurse at Prince Georges Hospital and later a mental health nurse for disturbed children at the National Institutes of Health. She worked on several research projects: an experimental project on animals at Walter Reed Hospital, a study of tropical diseases in Ghana, Africa with the American Cancer Institute, and, lastly, a study of newborns with the National Institute for Health.

Bored and restless after the study ended, she took an early retirement. She has enjoyed being a busy "lady of leisure," working on her own house and bicycling on Elder Hostel trips in Europe. Sihvonen received here B.A. degree from American University in Nursing Education in 1960."

Biography written by Mary Emma Harris for Black Mountain College Project.


Brother: Oli Sihvonen

Courses Taken

Second Semester, 1946-47: Woodworking (Gregory); Comparative Religions (Miller),Intro to Music & Chorus (Schlesinger), Reading Literature (Richards), Philosophy (Dehn)

Summer Session, 1947: Photography (Newhall), Writing (Sproul); First Semester 1947-48: Intro toElementary and Higher Mathematics, Music I (Schlesinger), Drama (Penn), Chorus (Schlesinger)

Second Semester, 1947-48: Drama (Penn), Geometry (Dehn), Music I (Schlesinger), Chorus(Schlesinger)

First Semester, 1948-49: Woodworking (Albers), Chorus (Schlesinger), Principles for Philosophy (Dehn), Drawing (Albers)

Second Semester, 1948-49: Drawing (Albers), Chorus(Schlesinger), Woodworking (Albers); Community Work Program, February 11, 1947 to June 18,1949

Photograph of author


Mary Emma Harris

Mary Harris has long been regarded as one of the most prominent scholars on Black Mountain College. Her book, "The Arts at Black Mountain College" (1987), is one of the most influential publications on the history of BMC.

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