Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfey
Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival

64%

10 Critic Reviews

Whereas the results are often charming and even enchanting, the book can be exhausting: not unlike the long essays of the New York Review of Books, for which Benfey writes.
-Publishers Weekly

Synopsis

New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2012

"Beautiful, haunted, evocative and so open to where memory takes you. I kept thinking that this is the book that I have waited for: where objects, and poetry intertwine. Just wonderful and completely sui generis."  (Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes)

An unforgettable voyage across the reaches of America and the depths of memory, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay follows one incredible family to discover a unique craft tradition grounded in America¹s vast natural landscape. Looking back through the generations, renowned critic Christopher Benfey unearths an ancestry--and an aesthetic--that is quintessentially American. His mother descends from colonial explorers and Quaker craftsmen, who carved new arts from the trackless wilds of the frontier. Benfey¹s father escaped from Nazi Europe--along with his aunt and uncle, the famed Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers--by fleeing across the Atlantic and finding an eventual haven in the American South.

Bricks form the backbone of life in North Carolina¹s rural Piedmont, where Benfey¹s mother was raised among centuries-old folk potteries, tobacco farms, and clay pits. Her father, like his father before him, believed in the deep honesty of brick, that men might build good lives with the bricks they laid. Nurtured in this red-clay world of ancient craft and Quaker radicalism, Benfey¹s mother was poised to set out from home when a tragic romance cracked her young life in two. Salvaging the broken shards of his mother¹s past and exploring the revitalized folk arts resisting industrialization, Benfey discovers a world brimming with possibility and creativity.

Benfey¹s father had no such foundation in his young life, nor did his aunt and uncle. Exiled artists from Berlin¹s Bauhaus school, Josef and Anni Albers were offered sanctuary not far from the Piedmont at Black Mountain College. A radical experiment in unifying education and art, Black Mountain made a monumental impact on American culture under Josef¹s leadership, counting Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Buckminster Fuller among its influential students and teachers. Focusing on the natural world, innovative craftsmanship, and the physical reality of materials, Black Mountain became a home and symbol for an emerging vision of American art.

Threading these stories together into a radiant and mesmerizing harmony, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay is an extraordinary quest to the heart of America and the origins of its art.
 

About Christopher Benfey

See more books from this Author
CHRISTOPHER BENFEY is the Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College. A frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, and The New York Review of Books, he has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. His most recent book, A Summer of Hummingbirds, won the Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
 
Published March 15, 2012 by Penguin Books. 304 pages
Genres: History, Biographies & Memoirs, Arts & Photography, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay
All: 10 | Positive: 6 | Negative: 4

Kirkus

Excellent
Feb 01 2012

Lively, intelligent and interesting—a look inside not just a single family, but also an entire artistic tradition now largely forgotten.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Adam Goodheart on Apr 20 2012

For me, at least, the experience of reading “Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay” feels something like Bartram’s discovery of that vase — like stumbling upon a curious piece of craftsmanship, a vessel containing centuries of lost time.

Read Full Review of Red Brick, Black Mountain, Wh... | See more reviews from NY Times

Publishers Weekly

Below average
Nov 21 2011

Whereas the results are often charming and even enchanting, the book can be exhausting: not unlike the long essays of the New York Review of Books, for which Benfey writes.

Read Full Review of Red Brick, Black Mountain, Wh... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

The Daily Beast

Below average
Reviewed by Malcolm Jones on Apr 09 2012

Time and again, Benfey risks getting lost (sometimes literally: he misplaces the North Carolina city Winston-Salem in Randolph County, not Forsyth), but his wandering ways usually pay off.

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Library Journal

Excellent
Reviewed by Barbara Hoffert on Sep 19 2011

Really fascinated by this one.

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Smithsonian

Excellent
Reviewed by Chloe Schama

An odd but pleasing book—not unlike the curios it celebrates.

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Patti Smith

Good
Reviewed by Patti Smith(?) on Apr 03 2012

I never felt bogged down, and there was enough narrative intertwined with facts to keep the flow moving swiftly and smoothly.

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I Write in Books

Below average
Mar 20 2012

This will appeal to those who like their memoirs with a little bit of history, but probably not the other way around.

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Wordy Evidence of the Fact

Below average
Reviewed by Sara Coffman(?) on Mar 13 2012

Unfortunately, the book lacks narrative cohesion.

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WillowTree Pottery

Good
on Dec 27 2011

In the telling, Benfey looks at process, art, exile, and the threads that tie our lives together. I can only give the barest outline here. Put it on your reading list.

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