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ACC Reads 2013: Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay

Cover of Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, & Survival by Christopher Benfey  
Christopher Benfey, author of Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, & Survival. (photographer: Jim Gipe)

Cover of Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, & Survival by Christopher Benfey  

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Inspired by the success of the first meeting of the American Craft Council book club last year at the ACC Baltimore Craft Show, which featured a lively discussion of The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, we'd like to invite our literary members and non-members from all across the globe to join us in ACC Reads, our now official book club.

Over the next few months, we will be reading Christopher Benfey's Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on art, family & survival. According to Adam Goodheart at the New York Times, which recently listed Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012, this non-fiction work is "part memoir, part family saga, part travelogue, part cultural history" and "takes readers on a peripatetic ramble across American and beyond, paying calls on Cherokee potters, Bauhaus craftsmen, colonial clay-diggers and the author's brick-mason grandfather."

Benfey traces his roots from the small Quaker town where he grew up in Indiana, to the North Carolina bricklayers and masons from which his mother's family came, to his father's flight out of Nazi Germany. Along the way, he draws on his unique familial connections, including his great uncle and aunt - renowned artists Josef and Anni Albers, and a distant cousin, the explorer William Bartram, to illustrate key aspects of folk and material history in the southern United States. As Benfey writes, “I am searching in this book for a pattern in the wanderings of my far-flung family. But the narrative has more to do with geology than genealogy. I take my promptings from the material order of things, and especially from the clay….” Included in the story are tales of people, places, and events that were pivotal to the development of contemporary craft in America - including Black Mountain College (from which part of the title is derived), Jugtown, World War II, and artists Karen Karnes, Mark Hewitt, and Ruth Asawa. Although there are many threads to the overall web Benfey is spinning, the serendipitous discoveries he makes in his journey, as well as the reminder of the joys one can find in unearthing ancestral roots, are sure to delight readers both familiar and unacquainted with the history of clay.  

Happy Reading!

PLEASE NOTE: A wine and cheese reception with author Christopher Benfey will be held from 6-7pm on Tuesday, February 19, 2013, at the ACC's Baltimore Wholesale Show. Following the reception Benfey will give the keynote address, Why We Care About Craft: A Backward Glance at Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay. To purchase tickets please visit http://christopherbenfeyacc.eventbrite.com/.

Also, don't miss our meeting of the ACC Reads book club, hosted by Celeste Sollod, the Baltimore Bibliophile, on Friday, February 22, 2013, at the American Craft Council Show. In addition to our in-person meet-up, we invite all participants to share their impressions of the book, fun facts, and unique connections to craft by following us on Twitter at @craftcouncil and using the Twitter hashtag #ACCReads. You don't have to be a Twitter user to participate - just check here for the latest Tweets tagged #ACCReads.

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This looks like a great book for our Twin Cities Artful Book Club. I will put it on the list for the upcoming months. We meet the first Tuesday of the month. You can find details on facebook: twincitiesartfulbookclub.

I loved this book! It's really interesting how many parallels it has with The Hare with Amber Eyes. It's soulful... and erratic in a really great, intellectually curious way. If you want to know the links between Josef and Anni Albers an the Cherokee white clay that went into Wedgwood's original Jasperware, you're gonna love this book. Thanks for giving this a nudge, ACC! More people should be discovering it!

Thanks Garth, for your comments and support!  I'm glad to hear you loved the book. I enjoyed it as well for its serendipidous charms and wandering storyline.  I think Benfey gives just enough information to engage the reader without making one feel overwhelmed by the historical facts.  I'm looking forward to reading more thoughtful comments online and hearing what others have to say at the book group discussion in Baltimore!   

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