At the avant-garde arts enclave of Black Mountain College in western North Carolina, Elizabeth “Betty” Schmitt Jennerjahn was both student and teacher, specializing, respectively, in textiles and dance. Prior to arriving at the school in 1944, she attended Milwaukee State Teachers College, followed by studies at the University of Colorado. Her first impressions of Black Mountain were enthusiastic; she called the place a “utopia . . . a summer camp with college courses that one chose with no thought of requirements and no grades.” Jennerjahn’s four siblings also studied at Black Mountain College.

Betty Schmitt’s initial intention was to study stained glass and—like most students on the experimental campus—she registered for Josef Albers’ course in art fundamentals called “matières studies.” Using simple, available, and inexpensive objects like twigs, leaves, and rocks, the curriculum dealt primarily with textures, colors, and lines. She also probably enrolled in Anni Albers’ weaving workshop which was conducted with a similar approach to the creation of functional and fine art textiles alike. Anni Albers admired South American weavings and no doubt passed that appreciation along to her students. Betty left the school in 1945 to pursue her passion for dance in New York, where she took classes with Martha Graham, a leading figure in modern dance and choreography.

In the summer of 1948, Betty returned to Black Mountain College, newly married to Pete Jennerjahn, a fellow Milwaukee native, World War II veteran, and abstract painter. She hoped to study with Merce Cunningham, whose innovative approach to dance was collaborative and interdisciplinary. That particular summer is considered a halcyon time at Black Mountain because of the caliber of other visiting artists: Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, and the Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning who was accompanied by his young wife Elaine, herself then an aspiring artist. In the fall, Robert Rauschenberg arrived as a student, and photographs show him dancing outdoors with Jennerjahn. When Josef and Anni Albers resigned the following year, the Jennerjahns were appointed to the faculty.

In her new role, Elizabeth Jennerjahn taught modern dance—in courses on eurhythmics called “Movement and its Rhythmic Structure.” She and Pete cofounded the Light Sound Movement Workshop, in which they developed short theater pieces using projected slides, painted backdrops, music, dance, and verbal texts, aiming to create a structural relationship between light, sound, and movement. It is believed that this initiative was a forerunner of the “happenings” movement of the 1950s, precipitated by Cage and others.

Wishing to have more time to themselves, the Jennerjahns left Black Mountain in 1951 and spent a year in France. Upon their return, they settled in New York, where Betty taught art and eventually chaired the art department at the Long Island Waldorf School in Garden City. In the late 1980s, the couple moved to Oak Creek, a community close to Sedona, Arizona. In her later years, Jennerjahn pursued textile design and painting.