• Hardcover: 288 pages
• Publisher: The Penguin Press (March 15, 2012)
An incandescent journey to unearth the beginnings of American art.
An unforgettable voyage across the reaches of America 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.
Bricks form the backbone of life in the rural Piedmont of North Carolina, 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 former life 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 red 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.
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. Benfey’s most recent book, A Summer of Hummingbirds, won the Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Christopher’s Tour Stops
Tuesday, March 13th: Wordy Evidence of the Fact
Wednesday, March 14th: Anthony Foo
Thursday, March 15th: JulzReads
Monday, March 19th: Travel Spot
Tuesday, March 20th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Wednesday, March 21st: Twisting the Lens
Tuesday, March 27th: Whynot Pottery
Wednesday, March 28th: Musing About Mud
Thursday, March 29th: Bookstack
Tuesday, April 3rd: Peppermint PhD
Wednesday, April 4th: The Infinite Shelf