Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival [NOOK Book]


"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, this generational ...
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Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival

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"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, this generational memoir of one incredible family reveals America’s unique craft tradition. In Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay, renowned critic Christopher Benfey shares stories—of his mother’s upbringing in rural North Carolina among centuries-old folk potteries; of his father’s escape from Nazi Europe; of his great-aunt and -uncle Josef and Anni Albers, famed Bauhaus artists exiled at Black Mountain College—unearthing an ancestry, and an aesthetic, that is quintessentially American. With the grace of a novelist and the eye of a historian, Benfey threads these stories together into a radiant and mesmerizing harmony.

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Editorial Reviews

Adam Goodheart
…to paraphrase Emily Dickinson only slightly, there is no vessel like a book. Especially when it's as well wrought and far-sailing as Christopher Benfey's Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay, a book about earthen vases, epic voyages and ancestral blood. Part memoir, part family saga, part travelogue, part cultural history, it takes readers on a peripatetic ramble across America and beyond, paying calls on Cherokee potters, Bauhaus craftsmen, colonial clay-diggers and the author's brick-mason grandfather.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
As Mt. Holyoke English professor Benfey (A Summer of Hummingbirds) observes in his combined meditation on art in America and family history, “Sometimes, the shortest path between two points is serpentine.” This aspect both intrigues and frustrates. The three-part title refers to his mother’s red-clay world of rural North Carolina; his father’s involvement with Black Mountain College, run by his uncle, artist Josef Albers; and from the 18th-century search for the so-called Cherokee clay of the North Carolina outback for making fine porcelain. These elements are mixed and remixed in unexpected ways. 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. His book is certainly constructed with skill around an exploration of the meander (originally a design element on a Greek vase), as central to this narrative as the Shield of Achilles is to Homer’s. Benfey’s own meander ends with Whistler’s mother (like Benfey’s, a North Carolinian). The title of Whistler’s portrait of his mother, Arrangement in Grey and Black, might serve as the title of this fragmented memoir. 39 photos; 16 pages of color illus. (Mar.)
Stephen Mitchell

“Christopher Benfey takes us on a journey of discovery that meanders into the most curious corners of family and world history, from colonial America to Nazi Germany to Mexico, Japan, and beyond. And what a splendid cast of characters: brickmakers, Quakers, erudite scholars, famous artists and obscure craftsmen, explorers, poets, and Mr. Benfey’s own parents, whom he portrays with an amused and deeply touching affection. His prose is often delicious. This is a fascinating and charming book.”  

BOOKLIST (starred)

“[Benfey] spins a grand web out of his own fascinating lineage… In this revelatory mosaic of lives, Benfey reclaims radiant swathes of history, traces hidden links between remarkable innovators, and celebrates serendipity, resilience, and the refulgence of art.”

Library Journal
Since his mother traces her lineage back to Colonial craftsmen and his father fled Nazi Europe with his uncle and aunt, Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers (Josef eventually headed up Carolina's visionary Black Mountain College), Benfey really can look at his family to tell the larger story of American art. Exactly the sort of far-reaching memoir I like.
Kirkus Reviews
From Benfey (English/Mount Holyoke Coll.; A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade, 2008, etc.), a lyrical but unsentimental family memoir, taking in art, memory and time. The circumstances of the author's youth are not entirely rare: On one side, the bloodline extends far back into the American colonial past, on the other to just a few decades in the lives of refugees and exiles. Thus our narrator, as a boy, found himself at a basketball awards dinner where trophies were followed by a father-and-son game, his German-accented father dressed in coat and tie, awkward. "He could no more play basketball than fly to Mars," writes Benfey. However, his American grandfather was a more practical sort, a bricklayer who once traveled from North Carolina to the Benfey home in Indiana just to lay in a mantelpiece, showing his grandson how to apply mortar, "spread with a pointed trowel like icing on a cake." Disappointments gave way to understandings as the years passed. Forging links to a deeper past, the author looks at great naturalist William Bartram and explores the hidden past of his parents--he discovered, for instance, that his mother had been engaged to be married before meeting his father, a fact that would rattle any sensitive kid. Benfey's account, as he puts it, is more geological than chronological, bound together by the clay worked by his artful ancestors and, in one extended section, by the against-the-grain teaching that took place at Black Mountain College in North Carolina courtesy of a small troupe of brilliant European exiles. "Black Mountain had seemed almost a mythical place during our upbringing, a tether linking our flat Midwestern childhood to the vivid summers of artistic innovation and adventure," he writes--how many other childhood homes had a painting by Josef Albers in the dining room? 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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101561027
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/15/2012
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 446,893
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Christopher Benfey is the Mellon professor of English at Mount Holyoke College and the author of the award-winning book A Summer of Hummingbirds. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review, the New Republic, and the New York Review of Books. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Mound 1

Part I

1 The Bamboo Grove 19

2 Jugtown 44

3 The Snuffbox 73

Part II

4 Mexico 107

5 The Meander 142

6 On The Divide 164

Part III

7 Cherokee Clay 187

8 Wedgwood 209

9 Xanadu 227

Epilogue: Arrangement in Gray and Black 254

Acknowledgments 271

A Note on Sources 277

Index 283

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2014

    Shadowstar ~ BlackClan Camp

    This is the BlackClan camp.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2013


    Lerfs her Sir, Time. Crazyness and all. ^~^

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2013

    Zachs, Times, and Lalas bio

    ZACH~Name. Zach Ravenhawk. Age.(hes immortal so about 3,000 years old but lets say hes 16). Status.Natural Caster. Appearance. Snowy white skin and golden blond hair with some of it hanging in his eyes. Eye color is green(which is the cokor of all Light Casters, Dark Casters have goldish yellowish eyes). he stands at just below 6 feet tall. He is muscular but not too much. He usually wears a black shirt, jeans, and black boots. wears a cresent moon shape pendant that glows bright green. Personality. Meh...i smile sometimes.TIME~ name. Time. Age.?. Status. An incubus which is a vampire that feeds off of dreams(they do not feed off of sex! Read the book Beautiful Creatures.) And he just so happens to be the son of Father Time. Appearance. unnaturaly white hair and silver eyes. Can change his age whenever he wishes. He wears a blue robe with a big hood that covers his eyes. Has a long wooden staff...great for hitting people. Personality. Hes crazy. Not even a mental hospital would take him but he keeps track of everything in his mind so....yeah. LALA~ (from the anime Motto To Love Ru.) Name. Lala. Age. About the same age as Zach. Status. From the planet Deviluke....and shes in love with Zach. Appearance. Long pink hair with greenish eyes. Usually wears a pink sweater with jeans. Hourglass figure and insanely string(due to the fact shes a devilukian.) Personality. Nice, selfless, and smart.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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