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Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay:…

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and…

by Christopher Benfey

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background of craft family & Black Mountain College
  SHCG | Jun 24, 2014 |
Review published @ http://epkwrsmith.blogspot.com on April 3, 2012

Benfey traces his family history through the artifacts, places, people, and stories that mean home. With his mother's Quaker beginnings and his father's German Jewish heritage, his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles as well as great grandparents, aunts and uncles were shaped by the events leading up to, during and after WWII, his mother's family within work/internment camps of sorts for conscientious objectors and his father's family as victim's of Hitler's stripping even German citizens of their livelihoods because of their Jewish ancestry, all of their lives converging, moving in and out of Black Mountain from all around the world.

What I Liked
the family stories - Benfey covers his family history with artform (brick, clay, textiles, fairy tales, Greek mythology, art, pottery, poetry, collages, jewelry, literature) rather than a more expected timeline

The central setting is Black Mountain North Carolina and no matter how far away family members are or travel from Black Mountain, specifically Black Mountain College, the connection always comes full circle. Some started out there; others found their way there; and even Benfey himself returns there within a chapter aptly entitled "The Meander," the title alluding to Benfey's own shifting, zig-zagging journey, as well as those of his family members in comparison to the beloved art pattern of Benfey's great aunt and uncle.

Japan, Germany, Mexico, U.S. England, China, Russia, and Poland are just a few of the places touched by Benfey's family members and their art.

At times I was reminded of the early colonial free thinkers and their connections to one another...Walden, Thoreau, Colerige and Alcott...Benfey paints a picture of another community of intellectuals making sense of the world around them through their art in its many forms.

the appreciation of the art and a conscious resistance to defining or otherwise pigeon-holing it...an openness to interpretation but at the same time not a free for all creation or emotional, "what it means to me" response.

the search for the elusive white clay of the Cherokee nation...how the Englishman Wedgewood sought out the secrets of Chinese porcelain and early colonist potters began to throw stoneware...and the inevitable consequences for the Cherokee themselves.

Even though Benfey's book is a wealth of information, it never feels that way. I never felt bogged down, and there was enough narrative intertwined with facts to keep the flow moving swiftly and smoothly. The language is impeccable and was a joy to read.

What I Didn't Like
I honestly can't think of a thing.

This book is a perfect selection for those who love non-fiction, art in its many forms, family stories, early American as well as early history of marginalized groups forced to leave their homes and/or those who love reading about history without political agenda. If Benfey has one, I never noticed. ( )
  epkwrsmith | Apr 4, 2012 |
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"An unforgettable voyage across the reaches and the depths of memory, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay tells the story of America's artistic birth. Following his family back through the generations, renowned critic Christopher Benfey unearths an ancestry--and an aesthetic--that is quintessentially American. His mother descends from colonial craftsmen, such as the Quaker artist-explorer William Bartram. Benfey's father--along with his aunt and uncle, the famed Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers--escaped from Nazi Europe by fleeing to the American South. Struggling to find themselves in this new world, Benfey's family found strength and salvation in the rich craft tradition grounded in America's vast natural landscape. 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"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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