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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 de 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 America s 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. Benfey s 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 Carolina s rural Piedmont, where Benfey s 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, Benfey s mother was poised to set out from home when a tragic romance cracked her young life in two. Salvaging the broken shards of his mother s past and exploring the revitalized folk arts resisting industrialization, Benfey discovers a world brimming with possibility and creativity. Benfey s father had no such foundation in his young life, nor did his aunt and uncle. Exiled artists from Berlin s 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 Josef s 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.


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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 de 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 America s 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. Benfey s 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 Carolina s rural Piedmont, where Benfey s 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, Benfey s mother was poised to set out from home when a tragic romance cracked her young life in two. Salvaging the broken shards of his mother s past and exploring the revitalized folk arts resisting industrialization, Benfey discovers a world brimming with possibility and creativity. Benfey s father had no such foundation in his young life, nor did his aunt and uncle. Exiled artists from Berlin s 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 Josef s 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.

30 review for Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    In this generational memoir, Benfey explores how art has shaped his family. He takes several seemingly unconnected threads and weaves them together into a narrative that demonstrates the impact of aesthetics on his life and those of his kin. The book reads like anecdotes stitched together, telling the history of Benfey’s Quaker roots, his Jewish father’s exile from Nazi Germany, his aunt and uncle’s Bauhaus career and subsequent work at Black Mountain College, and the search for elusive white cl In this generational memoir, Benfey explores how art has shaped his family. He takes several seemingly unconnected threads and weaves them together into a narrative that demonstrates the impact of aesthetics on his life and those of his kin. The book reads like anecdotes stitched together, telling the history of Benfey’s Quaker roots, his Jewish father’s exile from Nazi Germany, his aunt and uncle’s Bauhaus career and subsequent work at Black Mountain College, and the search for elusive white clay of the Piedmont. This book connected with me in two very personal ways, the first being that my mother and sister have migrated to Greensboro, North Carolina in the heart of the Piedmont. Thus I could appreciate the landscape and atmosphere of that region of the South as Benfey portrays it. I have been to the potter’s village of Seagrove and own some pieces made by the local artisans. The second reason I had such an appreciation for the book was because I studied ceramics for four years. I know the feel of clay, the turn of the wheel, and the satisfaction of creation in this medium. What I loved especially was the Part III, which outlined the history of ceramics in the western world, specifically the legendary Cherokee clay found in a remote area in North Carolina. I was most intrigued by famed English potter Wedgwood’s pursuit of this fine porcelain as he sent an agent to navigate uncharted wilderness and negotiate with hostile natives. This clay takes on mythic proportions as various fortune hunters search the untamed woods for it, which leads me to another vein Benfey takes in his familial history: mythology. He establishes a correlation between art and legend, evoking the Greek Minotaur and Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel. There are so many facets that influence him, and Benfey attempts to address each one in this volume. It is clear that Benfey’s family inhabits a different circle of talent than many of us are familiar with. I was unaware of many of the names mentioned, but then my background is comparatively mediocre. Regardless, Benfey writes with authority and pride and is successful in his attempt to portray why art is important in his life and how it has shaped his family through the generations. I received a complimentary copy of this book via TLC Book Tours.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    When TLC Book Tours offered me the opportunity to review this book, I felt both excited and a little unsure. After all, even though I do study art history, American art, pottery and related topics are far from my expertise. I did worry I would have a hard time to get into it, but I shouldn’t have; Benfey’s writing pulled me in from the start. Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay is a book that defies genre classification. It’s a memoir, a story of family, a book about art, history, nations… It i When TLC Book Tours offered me the opportunity to review this book, I felt both excited and a little unsure. After all, even though I do study art history, American art, pottery and related topics are far from my expertise. I did worry I would have a hard time to get into it, but I shouldn’t have; Benfey’s writing pulled me in from the start. Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay is a book that defies genre classification. It’s a memoir, a story of family, a book about art, history, nations… It is all of this and a little more, all of it coming together in one single narrative. Benley retraces his own origin through his parents and grand-parents’ story while narrating the historic and cultural background of each, and this is what I mostly enjoyed about his book : the intimate point-of-view. It makes history sound a lot more personal and a lot less clinical, all while sticking to the facts. The book is divided in three parts, and I found them almost all equally interesting. I did enjoy reading about Wedgwood and the Cherokee in the last part, since I am curious about both but haven’t read a lot about either in the past. But, if I am honest, I do wish I could have read even more about the author’s uncle and aunt, Josef and Anni Albers. Maybe because I had heard a little of them before, of maybe because they felt closer to my field of study, I was the most intrigued by their part of the story, and I could have read a complete book about them. However, with a book so full of stories, it was clear the author had included just enough of them. On a final note, I really liked Benfey’s writing. At times it was a bit unclear which point he was trying to make; he would mention an event, which related to someone specific, which then ended up being a story about someone else, sometimes coming back to the original idea, and sometimes not. It wasn’t a negative point for me; on the contrary, it is precisely what made this non-fiction book more personal and different from a traditional, dry history book. I am so glad I got the chance to read this book; I’ll be honest and say that it isn’t something I would have picked by myself, but it was certainly a great experience. Benfey made me travel through time and space, gave me a lot to think about on history, family and artists, all of this wrapped in pleasant writing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carol Bundy

    Beautifully written, this memoir surprised me. It starts in the usual way -- discussing his parents and the families they came from. But soon departs in what at first seems oddly selective ways. The connections between his three sections are in someways not quite arbitrary but still hard to fathom. Until that is, I begin to realize that I am trapped in the logic of an historian. Benfey, on the other hand, is tracing the connections not of an historical past but of an aesthetic -- or at least, th Beautifully written, this memoir surprised me. It starts in the usual way -- discussing his parents and the families they came from. But soon departs in what at first seems oddly selective ways. The connections between his three sections are in someways not quite arbitrary but still hard to fathom. Until that is, I begin to realize that I am trapped in the logic of an historian. Benfey, on the other hand, is tracing the connections not of an historical past but of an aesthetic -- or at least, the creative imagination from which he was born, as were his mother's other creations. In this respect, I feel oddly liberated after finishing this book. A perfect example: Benfey is, in some tangential and not very clearly defined way descended from William Bartram, the naturalist. He makes little of this genetic connection but much of Bartram himself and the connection between Bartram's account of his travels in the American South in particular the influence this book had on the poets Wordsworth and especially Coleridge whose Kublai Khan he sees as overwhelmingly derivative. He pull sit off very well, and I find myself beginning to think much more freely and loosely about how a memoir might be put together. That one's ancestors are only a part of the puzzle. In many respects this memoir does the more important and harder work of capturing the world of ideas and aesthetics that nurtured Benfey.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    In this book, Benfey not only locates his place in American history (and he's lucky that it's such a fascinating place), but locates it beautifully and does a wonderful job of crafting the story in its own kind of meander--bringing together threads that recur again and again: Quakers, pottery, etc. Having read this, I want to read all the books he referenced, go live in the North Carolina hills, learn to weave and throw pottery, learn the Latin names of the local flora and fauna, go to Quaker me In this book, Benfey not only locates his place in American history (and he's lucky that it's such a fascinating place), but locates it beautifully and does a wonderful job of crafting the story in its own kind of meander--bringing together threads that recur again and again: Quakers, pottery, etc. Having read this, I want to read all the books he referenced, go live in the North Carolina hills, learn to weave and throw pottery, learn the Latin names of the local flora and fauna, go to Quaker meetings, and build my own house out of locally-fired bricks. So totally recommended.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mackenzie Brooks

    Meandering and fragmented in a good way. If you like Quakers, North Carolinian pottery, family history, or material culture, you will probably like this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ann Sloan

    This is not a book I would have selected to read, but then I have named this blog “All Books Considered.” And I was kind of assigned this book for the Artful Reading book club at Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum. (Actually, I didn’t realize it was a book club; I thought the authors or some other experts were going to come and lecture – there are two more books in this series.) Anyway, that’s what reading is for – to open your mind to new experiences, not just entertain or inform. The director of this This is not a book I would have selected to read, but then I have named this blog “All Books Considered.” And I was kind of assigned this book for the Artful Reading book club at Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum. (Actually, I didn’t realize it was a book club; I thought the authors or some other experts were going to come and lecture – there are two more books in this series.) Anyway, that’s what reading is for – to open your mind to new experiences, not just entertain or inform. The director of this long-standing book club asked us what we would say to persuade someone else to read this book. I’m still thinking about that. Christopher Benfey is literary critic and Emily Dickinson scholar. He is the Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College. Benfey holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Benfey is a specialist in 19th and 20th century American literature. He is also an established essayist and critic who has been published in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and The Times Literary Supplement. He also seems to be related or acquainted with everyone who mattered in the second half of the 20th century. More about that later… He seems to have been everywhere and what he doesn’t know, doesn’t matter. The title comes from the three parts of the book, although the book’s organization is very free flowing. One of Annie Albers’, his aunt, painting is titled “Red Meander,” and that is exactly what this book does – meander throughout the world, the arts, history, people, and Benfey’s thoughts. The subtitle for the book is Reflections on Art, Family, & Survival. As I said, there are three parts to the book. The first part concentrates on the origin of his mother’s family. Rachel Elizabeth Thomas descended from colonial explorers and Quaker craftsmen. Her family settled in the Piedmont area of North Carolina, famous for its red clay, and was a brick layer. Seagrove is in the area, which I learned, is notable for its many folk potteries reaching back more than two hundred years, and is sometimes referred to as the "pottery capital of North Carolina", or pottery capital of the world. Jugtown, one of the premier potteries, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I had never heard of this place; I seemed to be one of the few in the book club who hadn’t. Benfey explores the geology, history, economy, art, and family background concentrated on this area of the country. However, he also traces his father’s family’s history in this first part. His father, Otto Theodor Benfey, had left Germany before the war. His aunt and uncle, Josef and Anni Albers, left Germany when the Nazis closed the Bauhaus school in 1933. The Bauhaus had a major impact on art and architecture trends in Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Israel in the decades following its demise, as many of the artists involved fled, or were exiled, by the Nazi regime. The Benfeys have a distinguished, prominent family history, including Christopher’s father, a chemist, who conceived the spiral design of the period table of the elements, and Theodor Benfey, a German philologist who taught Sanskrit and made a major scholarly contribution to the study of fairy tales at the same time the Brothers Grimm were collected their tales. If any of this seems linear, I am misleading you. This information is scattered throughout the book. Thank heavens for the index! In the second part of the book, Denfey relates the Alberses’ careers in this country. After Josef and Anni Albers reached the United States, the architect Philip Johnson, then a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, arranged for Albers to be offered a job as head of a new art school, Black Mountain College in North Carolina. In November 1933, he joined the faculty of the college where he ran the painting program until 1949. Black Mountain College was a new kind of college in the United States in which the study of art was seen to be central to a liberal arts education. Many of the school's students and faculty were influential in the arts or other fields, or went on to become influential. This connection is responsible for Christopher Benfey’s acquaintance with so many well-known later 20th century artists and writers. Although notable even during its short life, the school closed in 1957 after only 24 years. In 1950, Albers left Black Mountain to head the Department of Design at Yale University. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a lover of Albers’ work. Her office walls boast works on loan from the Smithsonian, including two original Rothkos, a painting by Max Weber, and one by Josef Albers. (Another Albers painting, which usually hangs in her chambers, is currently part of a traveling exhibit. Ginsburg vows that she won’t retire until it returns.) After digressions to Mexico, Japan, Italy, Germany, Chile, Cuba, Greece, China, France, and nearly every state in America (and I’m sure I’ve missed a few), we come to part three in which we travel to England to trace the development of Wedgwood china. Josiah Wedgwood became fixated on the white Cherokee clay in North Carolina. Several attempts were made to possess this unique material; in the end, John and William Bartram, father and son, Quakers, manage to take back five tons of the white Cherokee clay to Wedgwood, resulting in the superb china that resulted in Wedgwood being named Potter to Her Majesty. So we come back to pottery, North Carolina, clay, and Quakers. Everything in this book is connected. I can only imagine a graphic depiction of names, places, and materials. Back to the director’s question: What could I say to persuade someone to read this book? Many in the club were most interested in pottery. If you collect or create pottery, you must read this book. Otherwise, if you are interested in American history, from colonial times to the 20th century, this will provide you with much you may not be aware of (as I was). However, you must not expect a linear narrative; you must be ready for that meandering, I mentioned. I became very frustrated during less than interesting sections, was confused trying to make the connection between all the elements, and wished that Benfey would just get on with it. Nevertheless, I’m glad I made it through the entire book. One lesson may be that everything is connected in this world, in one way or the other. Another lesson may be that one should not close one’s mind to a book – one never knows what one may learn.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Harrell

    I enjoyed this book and wish I could give it 3.5 (integers are so overrated). Christopher Benfey takes us on a long winding journey through his family history which interested me because of the many connections with artists and NC places. He organizes it into three sections which ramble into each other and takes detours to share stories along the way. I found myself enjoying the individual stories but losing the thread that connected it all together. A good read if you're interested in the histo I enjoyed this book and wish I could give it 3.5 (integers are so overrated). Christopher Benfey takes us on a long winding journey through his family history which interested me because of the many connections with artists and NC places. He organizes it into three sections which ramble into each other and takes detours to share stories along the way. I found myself enjoying the individual stories but losing the thread that connected it all together. A good read if you're interested in the history of Black Mountain College or NC pottery.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jen Rokoski

    This is a unique form of storytelling that includes personal stories, history, poetry, and art history. I originally picked it up wanting to learn more about Black Mountain College but it was so much more expansive than that, while hitting close to my home with the author's Quaker roots and connections to Pennsylvania. I didn't know what I was going to read about on each page, which made me not want to put it down. I would highly recommend this book to anyone because it truly has passages for al This is a unique form of storytelling that includes personal stories, history, poetry, and art history. I originally picked it up wanting to learn more about Black Mountain College but it was so much more expansive than that, while hitting close to my home with the author's Quaker roots and connections to Pennsylvania. I didn't know what I was going to read about on each page, which made me not want to put it down. I would highly recommend this book to anyone because it truly has passages for all - especially art lovers. I'm sad to have finished it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    Fascinating book and very well written. The author did an excellent job of handling so much material, although I still found myself getting a little lost on occasion. Many thanks for a very useful index for the the moments when I did need to refer back to something. I’ll be reading it a second time in the future to soak in everything I might have missed, which should always be done with a good book anyway. One reading is never enough.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Fox

    A far ranging book about an awful lot of things and people between which the author discovers, acknowledges, or forces a connection. All of them are pretty interesting.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    Family history is interwoven with America’s developing folk art and history of the natural world.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

    As a ceramic artist I loved reading about the histories of the clays in North Carolina and about black mountain college. Also the authors family is rich in stories.

  13. 5 out of 5

    LemonLinda

    I read this for my local club. It is not a book I would have chosen on my own, but I did feel that I learned a lot and enjoyed the read. However, there were moments of frustration as often I felt as though the author tried to take on too much until I learned that was simply his writing style. He would be clearly heading in one direction when something caused him to veer into a completely new path and he expected the reader to make that leap with him. And make the leap I did and could, but it was I read this for my local club. It is not a book I would have chosen on my own, but I did feel that I learned a lot and enjoyed the read. However, there were moments of frustration as often I felt as though the author tried to take on too much until I learned that was simply his writing style. He would be clearly heading in one direction when something caused him to veer into a completely new path and he expected the reader to make that leap with him. And make the leap I did and could, but it was not always easy. There was a "meandering" pattern in art that was referred to often and I felt that was often what the author did - meander in and out from family history (the red brick), to various art forms, especially pottery (the white clay) to academics and study (the Black Mountain). In places it was a full on history lesson and in others it was a course in art appreciation and always at the form of it it was a memoir. I definitely picked up lots of interesting knowledge and feel more informed about the world of pottery and parts of my home state.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Richard Godfrey

    I downloaded this to my Nook while sitting in Global Village Organic Coffe on Hillsborough Street talking to a retired NS State professor (Jim) who mentioned buying it and loaning it out before he read it. The description he gave was tantalizing. And the book held up to it. I started reading Saturday late afternoon, and finished Sunday evening. Benfey does a masterful job of tying the three geographic regions into his family history, AND relating the same areas to international history as well. Be I downloaded this to my Nook while sitting in Global Village Organic Coffe on Hillsborough Street talking to a retired NS State professor (Jim) who mentioned buying it and loaning it out before he read it. The description he gave was tantalizing. And the book held up to it. I started reading Saturday late afternoon, and finished Sunday evening. Benfey does a masterful job of tying the three geographic regions into his family history, AND relating the same areas to international history as well. Being from Black Mountain and being slightly familier with Black Mountain College (from verbal/local accounts mostly) I was very impressed with his coverage of the development of the college and it's demise in the mid-50s. Historically it seems to be very accurate, though I have not yet had time to check most of the references. I had trouble putting this one down.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy

    I feel somewhat ambivalent about this book. I think it is well written and at times very interesting, but I also felt that at times the book didn't really hang together that well. What I found interesting was the stories of various immigrants from Europe and the artistic and craft expertise they brought with them, and the way in which this blended with traditions already in existence in native cultures. Christopher Benfey makes many connections, some of which seem appropriate but others seem a b I feel somewhat ambivalent about this book. I think it is well written and at times very interesting, but I also felt that at times the book didn't really hang together that well. What I found interesting was the stories of various immigrants from Europe and the artistic and craft expertise they brought with them, and the way in which this blended with traditions already in existence in native cultures. Christopher Benfey makes many connections, some of which seem appropriate but others seem a bit too much of a stretch for this reader.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jaime (Twisting the Lens)

    This review is posted as part of the book tour hosted by TLC Book Tours. Discovering what makes us the person we are is a lifelong journey for most. For Christopher Benfey it was a trip across the country, an ocean, and time. Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay takes us on a trek in search of what it means to be a part of something, no matter how insignificant it may seem. It is the dirt that connected him to his family’s past, and in that dirt, Benfey found home. _______________________________ This review is posted as part of the book tour hosted by TLC Book Tours. Discovering what makes us the person we are is a lifelong journey for most. For Christopher Benfey it was a trip across the country, an ocean, and time. Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay takes us on a trek in search of what it means to be a part of something, no matter how insignificant it may seem. It is the dirt that connected him to his family’s past, and in that dirt, Benfey found home. _____________________________________ The full review can be found at http://twistingthelens.wordpress.com

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    A beautiful mess of a book, ranging from descriptions of crazy Englishmen seeking out white clay used for porcelain in Cherokee territory, life at Black Mountain, a place I've heard of all my life, and wonderful tales about the author's Aunt Annie and Uncle Josef (Albers). This book took me a long time to get through. The writing is pretty dense and descriptive but seemed to not flow as it should have. On the other hand, he is writing about several different subject at the same time (the Jugtown A beautiful mess of a book, ranging from descriptions of crazy Englishmen seeking out white clay used for porcelain in Cherokee territory, life at Black Mountain, a place I've heard of all my life, and wonderful tales about the author's Aunt Annie and Uncle Josef (Albers). This book took me a long time to get through. The writing is pretty dense and descriptive but seemed to not flow as it should have. On the other hand, he is writing about several different subject at the same time (the Jugtown potters, naturalists, art, Josiah Wedgewood, etc.). A worthwhile if sometimes unwieldy read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    "He was a dowser of sorts, as I saw him, a feng shui artist, divining his place in the world and seeking an auspicious alignment of earth and stars. The zigzag path he traced over the sand was determined by unforeseen forces underground, the chance pattern of previous visitors and voyagers. From these soundings in the sand, I could imagine him piecing together a fragmented narrative of sorts...." Tracing pottery, art and brick making to make his narrative, Benfey makes an American memoir of craft "He was a dowser of sorts, as I saw him, a feng shui artist, divining his place in the world and seeking an auspicious alignment of earth and stars. The zigzag path he traced over the sand was determined by unforeseen forces underground, the chance pattern of previous visitors and voyagers. From these soundings in the sand, I could imagine him piecing together a fragmented narrative of sorts...." Tracing pottery, art and brick making to make his narrative, Benfey makes an American memoir of craft tradition.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Marla

    One of the most interesting books I have read in ages. Beautiful family memoir spanning generations and an amazing trove of art history spanning the US, Europe and Asia over multiple generations. If you have any interest in the arts, art history between mid-1800's to post-WWII in the US focusing on pottery and ceramics but intertwined with music, literature, philosophy, this book written with love and respect by Christopher Benfey about his own roots and finding them is a must read. One of the most interesting books I have read in ages. Beautiful family memoir spanning generations and an amazing trove of art history spanning the US, Europe and Asia over multiple generations. If you have any interest in the arts, art history between mid-1800's to post-WWII in the US focusing on pottery and ceramics but intertwined with music, literature, philosophy, this book written with love and respect by Christopher Benfey about his own roots and finding them is a must read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Byers

    For anyone who has thrown a pot or a shuttle or loved the materials with which they explore their craft, this book follows stories that feel familiar. I found myself wanting to figure out Anni Albers' weave structure or sink my hands in some white North Carolina clay. The author's family heritage is impressive and includes folk of wide ranging talents. My only gripe was with the very last section on Whistler, which seemed an afterthought. Still, an engaging read. For anyone who has thrown a pot or a shuttle or loved the materials with which they explore their craft, this book follows stories that feel familiar. I found myself wanting to figure out Anni Albers' weave structure or sink my hands in some white North Carolina clay. The author's family heritage is impressive and includes folk of wide ranging talents. My only gripe was with the very last section on Whistler, which seemed an afterthought. Still, an engaging read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    I enjoyed this book. Benfey has a very interesting family history and he hits on a lot of fascinating themes and important figures in the arts throughout the last century. I couldn't help but feel as though the narrative was missing a main thread pulling me along though. If it had been much longer I'm not sure I would have finished. Some great little stories, though, and an inventive method of seeking family history. I enjoyed this book. Benfey has a very interesting family history and he hits on a lot of fascinating themes and important figures in the arts throughout the last century. I couldn't help but feel as though the narrative was missing a main thread pulling me along though. If it had been much longer I'm not sure I would have finished. Some great little stories, though, and an inventive method of seeking family history.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ticia

    Very well written. Benfey has an amazing ability to make connections that bring deeper meaning to artistic spirit and the general experience of life. I especially enjoyed the section of the book that discuss the connection between the Bauhaus School and Black Mountain College. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in art, the act of creation and the connection of art to all that surrounds us both in form and formlessness.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Frost

    Almost a 5: I thought that the final third of the book, White Clay, wasn't nearly as strong as the first two parts, which were fantastic. You learn about writer Christopher Benfey's family, but in an oblique and subtle way by way of pacifist Quakers in WWII, exiled artists -- especially the Albers -- throwing pots, the community of Black Mountain College,Grimm's fairy tales, and so on even to Coleridge's Xanadu. Lovely writing. I revise: this is a 5. Almost a 5: I thought that the final third of the book, White Clay, wasn't nearly as strong as the first two parts, which were fantastic. You learn about writer Christopher Benfey's family, but in an oblique and subtle way by way of pacifist Quakers in WWII, exiled artists -- especially the Albers -- throwing pots, the community of Black Mountain College,Grimm's fairy tales, and so on even to Coleridge's Xanadu. Lovely writing. I revise: this is a 5.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    I persevered until I got to the half-way point of the book, and then I just had to quit. The author meanders around, talking mostly about his family history, and it just seems self-indulgent to me. I mean, I would get tired of listening to a dear old relative tell these stories, so why would I want to hear them from a total stranger? The NY Times had it as one of their 100 Notable Books of 2012.... I guess I must be missing something.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    A beautiful and unforgettable family memoir. There is so much about this book that spoke to me. Benfey's juxtaposition of art, family history and geography is a work of art in itself. I especially enjoyed reading about the many potters whose lives and work were so much a part of my own art education. The format of the book - a "meandering quest", as Benfey calls it - works perfectly in this biography. A beautiful and unforgettable family memoir. There is so much about this book that spoke to me. Benfey's juxtaposition of art, family history and geography is a work of art in itself. I especially enjoyed reading about the many potters whose lives and work were so much a part of my own art education. The format of the book - a "meandering quest", as Benfey calls it - works perfectly in this biography.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kim G

    I really liked this, but I can see how others would find it exasperating. If the phrase "a rambling meditation on..." gives you hives, run. But if you have an appreciation for interesting migration stories, the history of American art and craftsmanship, or quirky family memoirs, this book is lovely on a lot of levels. I really liked this, but I can see how others would find it exasperating. If the phrase "a rambling meditation on..." gives you hives, run. But if you have an appreciation for interesting migration stories, the history of American art and craftsmanship, or quirky family memoirs, this book is lovely on a lot of levels.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    A series of lectures strung together using the author's family history as the touchstone into the history of Carolina pottery, the Albers at Black Mountain College (Anni Albers was the author's great aunt), the search for the elusive white clay. Lovely mediations on what it is to create art and the thin line between creating art and craft. A series of lectures strung together using the author's family history as the touchstone into the history of Carolina pottery, the Albers at Black Mountain College (Anni Albers was the author's great aunt), the search for the elusive white clay. Lovely mediations on what it is to create art and the thin line between creating art and craft.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

    Meandering, unstructured and littered with too many names of people... Heine? Ok, I forgot who that is. Richards? Who is that? Anna? Is she Whistler's mother? Ugh. But still delightful if you can get past the few insufferable chunks. Part II - Black Mountain was my favorite for its unique perspective on the Holocaust that few people can say they've heard before. Meandering, unstructured and littered with too many names of people... Heine? Ok, I forgot who that is. Richards? Who is that? Anna? Is she Whistler's mother? Ugh. But still delightful if you can get past the few insufferable chunks. Part II - Black Mountain was my favorite for its unique perspective on the Holocaust that few people can say they've heard before.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    A dream of a book, wide ranging, discursive, yet pulled together in a brilliant web of scholarly connections. From 18th century pottery to the Albers at Black Rock College, from the Brilliant Bartrams to Whistler's portrait of his mother, Benfey ranges across American art and history in a deeply personal meditation that leaves me in total admiration. Loved it. A dream of a book, wide ranging, discursive, yet pulled together in a brilliant web of scholarly connections. From 18th century pottery to the Albers at Black Rock College, from the Brilliant Bartrams to Whistler's portrait of his mother, Benfey ranges across American art and history in a deeply personal meditation that leaves me in total admiration. Loved it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I had such hopes for this book. I am interested in so many of the things he covered; pottery, hola cause exiles, Bauhaus artists, the Cherokees, the Carolinas.... But it hopped around so much. Some lovely writing but I had to force myself to finish...all interesting to him because it revolves around generations of his family, but this is not a book I will prass on.

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