Recently I was contacted by TLC Book tours to be part of their book tour for this new book, "Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay" and asked if I was interested in doing a review. I gladly welcomed the opportunity, especially from my ceramics background, to read and learn more about early American arts.
Written by Christopher Benfey, it is part-memoir of his family's involvement in early American art and part-history of Black Mountain College and its contribution to early pottery in the US.
I enjoyed reading the intertwined histories of the individuals, their lives, events and places. The three sections of the book (Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay). Red Brick talks about the red clay world in North Carolina where his mother grew up. The Black Mountain section is about the early days of Black Mountain College and its contribution to American art. The last section, White Clay, and for me, the most interesting and riveting part, chronicles the search for the special, wonderful, snow-white clay.
Today, we buy our clay already bagged from our favorite ceramic supply store. The book details the search for this elusive "beautiful white clay" was so highly priced for making porcelain that men risked their lives looking for it. Reading about how they dug clay up from the ground, the challenge of finding good quality clay makes me appreciate the wonderful resource that we have. I actually longed for digging up my own clay, if only once, to feel what it would have been like. There are still potters in the US who have the privilege of connecting with Mother Earth.
The book has a lot of family history with many life stories coming and going. The writing on the whole is easy to read. I welcomed the pictures included in the book. It made is more personal and intimate.
As a ceramic artist, I enjoyed the reading about experiences with the material and the struggle and evolution of ceramics in early America. In all, the rich family history of the author is something worth preserving.