Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff/Personnel

Art Instructor, Houseparent,
Artist-in-Residence 1937 – August 1941

TAGS: John A. Spelman III, artists ,poets, writers, art education, linoleum blocks, woodcuts, prints, landscapes, Asheville (NC) Farm School, Black Mountain College, Progressive education, Barbara Spelman, Christmas cards, commemorative calendars, print shop, William and Fern Hall Hayes, Spruce Point Lodge, Hovland Minnesota

These are my hills…I bought and paid for them with work…not of the plow and pick…but by painstaking observation…the work of the pencil and the brush…I was not born among them…yet they are mine…for what I have seen I have made anew, part of myself…part as preservation of what shall pass…. [(From an untitled free verse poem by John A. Spelman III in the April 1987 issue of Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School]. JAS II

102 John Spelman III. [burk_people_102.jpg]

John A. Spelman (1912-1969) could indeed lay claim to the mountains of Appalachia as he skillfully captured their essence in drawings, paintings, prints, poems, plays, and teaching during his stay at Pine Mountain Settlement School from 1937 to 1941. To this day, he is primarily remembered and admired for his linoleum-block and woodcut prints representing the lives and environment of the mountain people. In the sense that Spelman’s strongest works were landscapes and rural scenes, he followed in the footsteps of his artist father, John A. Spelman II who was an award-winning artist and a graduate of the Chicago Art Institute. 

But Spelman developed his own creative style, particularly during his years at the Settlement School. His interest and work in the medium of linoleum block printing has attracted many followers over the years and continues to define the mountain cabin in ways that convey the dignity and beauty of that vernacular architectural style. 

John Adams Spelman III was born on July 16, 1912, in Oak Park, Minnesota, the only son among the four children of John Adams Spelman II and Florence Seis Spelman. His sisters were Ellen G., Marguerite, and the youngest, Barbara.

Spelman came to work at the Asheville Farm School in the Swannanoa Valley, near Asheville, NC, in the mid-thirties, where students were required to work on campus and perform community service, in addition to their academic work, in order to graduate. (In 1942, this school merged with Dorland-Bell School, a mission school, to later become what is now Warren Wilson College).

In approximately 1936, he possibly attended the experimental Black Mountain College (near Asheville, NC), a liberal arts school strongly indebted to John Dewy and the Progressive Movement in education and maintained for a brief time an extraordinary faculty. Although Spelman indicated that he had an association with Black Mountain College, there is no record of his enrollment, a fact common with some students who passed through the institution for a brief time, or, in Spelman’s case, possibly visited frequently. Although Black Mountain was small, it attracted many of America’s influential visual artists, poets, and designers as instructors including Josef and Anni Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham. Buckminster Fuller and others. Spelman’s time at the nearby Asheville Farm School, where he was an art instructor in 1936-1937, allowed him to practice his skills and to enjoy the association with artists at Black Mountain College. This association may have been his “attendance” as the two institutions are only a few short miles from one another.

John Spelman seated in Laurel House interior at Christmas., c. 1938. X_100_workers_2562a_mod.jpg

John Spelman seated in Laurel House interior at Christmas, c. 1938 [X_100_workers_2562a_mod.jpg]


John Spelman at Pine Mountain Settlement School. Source: Paul Hayes Photograph Album.[hay_IMAG0180_mod.jpg]

Considering his experience with the ambiance and philosophy of the two innovative North Carolina schools, Black Mountain College and the Asheville Farm School (later Warren Wilson College), it may be understandable why Spelman ended up at Pine Mountain Settlement School by 1937 as an art instructor.

The Director of Pine Mountain Settlement School in 1937 was Glyn Morris, a progressive educator who had been strongly influenced by Dewey and many of the ideas endorsed at Black Mountain and at Warren Wilson which began as a farm school. At Pine Mountain, Dewey’s pragmatism was combined with a deep respect for the land and for farming. Further, many of the administrators and teachers at the schools communicated regularly with one another.

Though Warren Wilson’s President Bannerman gave Spelman a cautioned endorsement, it was clear he recognized the young artist’s  talents and he encouraged Morris to hire him on a trial basis and if acceptable then offer him a full position. This was the agreement that Spelman accepted. Spelman obviously felt at home at Pine Mountain and he stayed for nearly three years. During the three years he made life-long friends and eventually encouraged his sister, Barbara Spelman (later, Mrs. Collin F. Allen) to join him following her graduation. She worked in the School’s Office as a bookkeeper, and by all accounts was quite skilled. Though her tenure at Pine Mountain was short, Barbara, like her brother John, established lifetime friendships with many of the staff at the School.

The Artist’s Works

The Chapel. A woodcut by John A. Spelman, 1938, published in Notes From PMSS.

The Chapel. A woodcut by John A. Spelman, published in the October 1938 issue of Notes from Pine Mountain Settlement School. [pmss_archives_notes_spelman_1938_oct_004.jpg]

Spelman’s writings drawings and prints depicting Appalachian homes, people, the Pine Mountain Settlement School’s buildings and natural surroundings, became almost identifiable with the School, having been included in many of the School’s publications, such as Notes from Pine Mountain Settlement School, Christmas cards, and commemorative calendars. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about Spelman’s 1938 School calendar in her syndicated newspaper column, “My Day” on January 22, 1938:

I have received a number of calendars from the Pine Mountain Settlement School. This school in Harlan County, Kentucky, is devoted to the education of mountain children. I am delighted with the linoleum cuts which have been used in making up this calendar. Mr. John A. Spelman III made them and he has chosen to portray scenes from the mountain environment and has done it delightfully. The students set up the pages and printed them.

Book of linoleum-block prints by John A. Spelman, 1938 [reprinted 1979]

Book of woodcuts and linoleum-block prints by John A. Spelman, 1938 (Reprinted 1978). [pmss_photo_spelman-book.jpg]

One of Spelman’s major works was his 1939 publication of a book containing a collection of his prints: At Home in the Hills: Glimpses of Harlan County, Kentucky, Through the Media of Linoleum Block and the Woodcut. August D. Angel, a printing instructor at the School, wrote of Spelman in his memoir:

John A. Spelman, a new volunteer art instructor, who worked in conjunction with [Art Teacher],  Mrs. [Alice] Shera, also spent a lot of time with me in the print shop because of his interest in printing. He lived alone in a one-room log cabin midway uphill on the path between the swimming pool and Farm House.

First, he would make preliminary sketches of off-campus mountain homes, fences, or buildings that intrigued him. He would redraw or refine a sketch in his cabin or the print shop. Then, Spelman would transfer the drawing onto linoleum, which was glued on a type-high woodblock, and tool the linoleum with hand-held gouges. After proofs were made, Spelman would re-work the linoleum until he achieved the desired effect. When his printing was completed, he would store the blocks for future re-use. Spelman also made a few woodcuts, but he preferred to work with linoleum.

Silver Jubilee -Page4

“Aunt Sal’s Cabin” by John A. Spelman III. Source: Silver Jubilee issue of Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School, 1938. [PMSS_notes_1938_jubilee004.jpg]

August Angel recalls that,When I later left Pine Mountain Settlement School in the summer of 1937, Fred J. Burkhard of Liberty, Kentucky, replaced me as printing instructor at Pine Mountain. He worked with John Spelman to print, publish, and bind a book of the stored linoleum cuts. It was the first edition of At Home in the Hills.... Some years [later] I relocated to Viper, Kentucky, and established a modern print shop. As a fundraising promotion in 1978, Spelman’s At Home in the Hills got its second printing and was given to any alumni or friends who donated $25 or more to the school.”

August Angel reprinted Spelman’s original 1938 book, At Home in the Hills, in his print shop in Viper, Kentucky in 1978.

From approximately 1939 through 1942, Spelman was also staff artist for Mountain Life & Work, a quarterly journal published by the Council of the Southern Mountains. His linoleum-block prints, sometimes full-page, accompanied articles, poetry, and editorials and reflected his interest in the quiet dignity of the mountain people and the charm of their environment. He expressed this in his poem, published along with his print of a tree against a mountain background, in the winter 1940 issue of Mountain Life & Work :

So much more of beauty now
Upon these hills lies bare
The hemlock’s green against the snow,
The hill-climb’s whitened stair.

Many of the linoleum blocks left at the School by Spelman found their way into later publications such as the Conifer, the Pine Cone and the Pine Mountain Notes. Also, in later years some of his prints were reproduced by former printing teacher August Angel and were offered for sale to benefit the School. A limited number of these prints are still available through the Pine Mountain Settlement School Gift Shop.

John Spelman III with his father John Spelman II, 1940.

John Spelman III with his father John Spelman II at Spruce Pt., June 1940. (Photo by William Hayes) [grand_marais_24.jpg]

After Pine Mountain

Spelman left Pine Mountain several months after his father’s death in May 1941. He continued his correspondence with Pine Mountain friends and colleagues particularly the Hayes family. In 1940 he had invited William Hayes and his new bride, Fern Hall Hayes, to Hoveland, Minnesota, where his family had their summer home and fishing camp. “Spruce Point Lodge,” possibly named by the Spelmans, was a place that he and his family kept as a special retreat. John III, like his father, would return often to the cabin on the shore of Lake Superior and to those places that held a special corner in his visual memory.

JOHN A. SPELMAN III: GALLERY I – Spruce Point Lodge, Hovland, MN

John Adams Spelman III died on October 22, 1969, in Grand Marais, Minnesota, and was buried in Old Settlers Cemetery in Hovland (Cook County), Minnesota. His gravesite is adjacent to that of his father.

Art and Life

In November 2000, Pine Mountain Settlement School filed a petition with the Department for Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to designate 5,226 acres of surrounding land as unsuitable for coal mining operations. With the assistance of Kentucky’s environmental advocacy organization, Kentucky Resource Council, the effort was successful and lead to the School’s dedication of the James E. Bickford State Nature Preserve. Among the evidence used to support the petition were examples of the works and writings of John A. Spelman III: 

The cultural importance of the structures and their relationship to an unspoiled natural environment is evident in the woodcuts and writings of the 1939 volume At Home In The Hills by John A. Spelman III. In the second chapter of his book, Spelman reflects in word and linoleum woodcut, on the significance of Pine Mountain and the school ‘founded for its people . . .[i]n the midst of these remote hills of Harlan County.’ (The second chapter is reprinted as Appendix I.)


I’ll go back soon to hills I’ve known
Where skyline is not straight, but grown
In rugged, ruffled, rising peaks
Of stone and trees and earth. Where shrieks
The winter’s wind, and cloud-tufts cling
To freeze in webs of ice till Spring.

John Spelman, III, standing in road near the Office at PMSS. X_099_workers_2500_mod.jpg

John Spelman, III, standing in the road near the Office at PMSS. [X_099_workers_2500_mod.jpg]

I’ll go back soon to hills that bleed
When cloud-bursts lash the first grown weed
With singing knives of silver’d rain,
And waters wash and whirl earth’s stain
Down creek bed’s crooked, winding way —
Severed and lost from its hillside clay.

I’ll go back soon to hills I’ve known
To find again the greens now grown
Upon each ridge in emerald hues;
Where great clouds float against the blues
Of sky and fling their shadows flat
Against the hillsides’ leafy mat.

I’ll go back soon to hills that burn
With autumn’s haze; when season’s turn
To pay last tribute to the bud
Of spring and summer’s verdant flood …
With ev’ning’s distant cowbell’s toll,
Tomorrow’s winter descends the knoll.

John Spelman III
from Notes 1940

Found with the poem were a series of notes and reflections by Spelman as he tried to sort out his response to the region and how the people of the mountains are challenged in their aesthetic and intellectual response to their environment.

There is more of everything here in the hills than one can absorb, sensuously, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually. I know that I came here with more than just the intention to teach. There is so much of everything one can’t give enough; neither can one take enough — there is too much. You live, you’re at step and are sheltered [?] Your social intercourse is abundant. Living does not end here, for you step from the house and there before you is everything — so much that your heart is heavy, you could weep, you are restless, you are dumbfounded, you want to tell someone, everyone!

So much, why don’t people see it?

1941 Calendar. Drawing by John A. Spelman III. July

1941 Calendar, “July” page. Drawing by John A. Spelman III. [1941_calendar_007.jpg]

Or is it my desire to feel it with my pencil, draw it — my reason for emotional response to it all?

My response to certain kinds of beauty makes my mouth water — others[ ???] this also, to pictures, or any lovely thing, picture, painting, human characteristics, animal, motion, color, etc.

There is also so much of the disenchanting here — educ[ation]. social, econ[omic] , books [??] -living conditions.

Prejudice [??] of response most troubling to me

(Educ[ation] of prog[ressive ?]. systems here too involved in theories, if there must be any they should go to bottom, but the emot[ional] side — less intellectual.

These people are potentially capable both intellectually and emotionally. But, are numb in both — in the emotional and the intellectual.

These reflections were followed by a talk given to his colleagues at the School. It captures much about his personal aesthetic and his educational philosophy but avoids his distress with the educational direction of the School.

August 26, 1940
Art Room Tea Exhibit

I wonder how many of us would be here today if we had had competent guidance to direct our uncertain talents during our elementary and secondary school years? I ask this because, personally, I would not be, at least, not here at Pine Mountain making an effort toward speaking to you this afternoon. I believe I would be in these mountains, that is to say, the Southern Appalachians, but not as a teacher. 

If you will excuse the personal reference, I would like to tell you about a few salient facts in my development. My father was an artist, a landscape painter, of the first degree. His oils of the Southern Appalachians were lovely and idealistic. I know that the first consciousness I must have had of a mountain cabin snuggled against a hill was in one of his numerous pictures of the Blue Ridge mountains. He must have painted and sketched hundreds and hundreds of them. Perhaps, because I had seen a few of them and had thought them romantic, but had never known the real life-fact of living in one, I suddenly became interested in drawing houses at an early age. My first vital art experience grew upon me unconsciously, for to me then, Art was painting, not architecture, too. The multitude of houses I designed and drew up was something else; certainly not Art. All through high school I had this rich experience of creativity, but never acknowledged it (p.2. ) as having much, if any, relationship to what I thought was Art. And this experience was not related in any way to my studies in school; otherwise, I might have had time to learn how to study. After a great, and prolonged, circle around Robin Hood’s barn, having considered and thought seriously of entering at least four other professions, one of which was the teaching of English, which I followed out as a major in college, I landed in the mountains of North Carolina and eventually here. The germ of a house against rugged hills and a mountain finally achieved some chance to grow. And no doubt, as you may gather from my work exhibited here, it was bot a small and innocent and good germ, but more like a cancer.

In all this time, which is really less than two decades, I have never quite understood this magnetism that the mountain cabin holds for me. Consequently, I feel at a loss in trying to relate what I have learned to do with what I might attempt to stimulate in children, regarding their art experiences. However, I do realize that never should we overlook the abundance of things that Art has influenced through all time and the present. Certainly, if only a few shall be artists or enjoy this limited means of creation, we must not throw up our hands in failure, but open our eyes, perhaps, for the first time, too, and realize that without Art and its influence, life would be pretty drab, colorless, unlivable. How then shall we proceed? Through appreciation, I believe.


Drawing by John A. Spelman III. [drawing1_spelman_modified.jpg]




 JOHN A. SPELMAN III “The Pink Ribbon” A Play








ALSO: John A. Spelman III, Artist and Printmaker: From Appalachia to Minnesota’s North Shore. Exhibition at the Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery, Historic Cook County, Grand Marais, MN, July – September 2022.


 John Spelman III

Alt. Title

John Adam Spelman III




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

John Spelman ; John A. Spelman III ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; education ; artists ; poets ; writers ; art education ; linoleum blocks ; woodcuts ; prints ; landscapes ; John Adams Spelman II ; Florence Seis Spelman ; Asheville (NC) Farm School ; Dorland-Bell School ; Warren Wilson College ; Black Mountain College ; Progressive education ; Barbara Spelman ; Mrs. Collin F. Allen ; Notes from Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Christmas cards ; commemorative calendars ; Eleanor Roosevelt ; My Day ; At Home in the Hills ; August Angel ; Alice Shera ; print shop ; Fred J. Burkhard ; Mountain Life & Work ; Council of the Southern Mountains ; Old Settlers Cemetery ; Department for Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement ; Kentucky Resource Council ; James E. Bickford State Nature Preserve ; petitions ; Mountain Life & Work ; Berea College ; Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Oak Park, MN ; Swannanoa Valley, NC ; Asheville, NC ; Liberty, KY ; Hovland (Cook County), MN ;

Subject LCSH

Spelman III, John A., — 1912 – 1969.
Linoleum block-printing.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — Pictorial works.
Rural schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Text ; image ;


Original and copies of photographs, documents, and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet ; photograph album(s) ;


Series 9: Staff/Personnel




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 9: Staff/Personnel

Coverage Temporal

1912 – 2000

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Oak Park, MN ; Swannanoa Valley, NC ; Asheville, NC ; Liberty, KY ; Hovland (Cook County), MN ; Berea, KY ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Images created by John A. Spelman III or core documents, correspondence, and writings addressed to or from John A. Spelman II ; clippings, photographs, publications by or about John A. Spelman II


n/d ; 1930s and early 1940s ;


John A. Spelman Collection] [Series 09]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2009-09-28 hhw ; 2013-11-04 aae ; 2014-05-23 hhw ; 2016-04-08 hhw ; 2016-04-23 aae ; 2016-05-01 ; 201605-27 aae ;



Angel, August D. Trivia & Me: An Octogenarian Mirrors His Twentieth Century. London, KY: August David Angel, 2007. Print.

“John Adam Spelman III.” Series 09: Staff/Personnel. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Archival material.

Mountain Life & Work. [untitled linoleum cut and verse]. 15.4 (Winter 1940): 10. Print.

Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School. XIII.I (October 1940): 4. Print.

Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School. XI.I (October 1938): 4. Print.

Roosevelt, Eleanor, and Rochelle Chadakoff. Eleanor Roosevelt’s My Day: Her Acclaimed Columns, 1936-1945. New York: Pharos Books, 1989. Print.

Spelman, John A. At Home in the Hills: Glimpses of Harlan County, Kentucky, Through the Media of Linoleum Block and the Woodcut. Pine Mountain, Ky: Pine Mountain Print Shop, 1939. [Reprinted by Graphic Arts Press, Viper, KY, in 1978.] Print.

Spelman, John A. “The Season’s Turn.” Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School. XI.1 (October 1938): 4. Print.

Spelman, John A. [untitled free verse poem]. Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School. (April 1987). Print.

Stewart, Al. “The Gift of the Stranger: The Pine Mountain Prints of John Spelman III,” Appalachian Heritage Volume 11, Number 1, Winter 1983 pp. 4-10.

“United States Census, 1930”, database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 May 2016), Florence Spelman in entry for John A Spelman, 1930. Internet resource.

Illustrations and writings by John A. Spelman III are included in the following books:

Campbell, Marie, and John A. Spelman. Cloud-walking. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc, 1942. Print.

Clark, Thomas D, and John A. Spelman. The Kentucky. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1942. [Reprinted as a Bicentennial Edition by the University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, in 1992.] Print.

Archived papers and prints by John A. Spelman III are located in the following collections:

Berea (KY) College Hutchins Library Special Collections, Southern Appalachian Archives: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collection. Part 1, series V-IX. Archival material.

Pine Mountain (KY) Settlement School Archives. Archival material.

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