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

Christopher Benfey. Penguin Press, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59420-326-8
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 [narrative] 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.)
Reviewed on: 11/21/2011
Release date: 03/15/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-101-56102-7
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-101-55761-7
Paperback - 291 pages - 978-0-14-312285-2
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