Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfey is a book about 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 America¹s vast natural landscape. Looking back through the generations, renowned critic Christopher Benfey unearths an ancestry--and an aesthetic--that is quintessentially American (excerpt from Goodreads.)

This book is written in three sections. The first started off on an interesting note, talking about the author's grandfather and his background in brickmaking and pottery in North Carolina. He talks about finding the clay, forming the bricks, and firing the bricks. He has a love of brickwork, learned from his grandfather, that I found sweet.

The second section is about the Appalachians and the author's great aunt and uncle, who came over from Germany to start an art school in the foothills of the mountains. This section also had some stories of WWII and how the author's relatives, who were Jewish, fled to Mexico in order to get over to the USA during the war.

The third section is about the search for the perfect Cherokee clay in North Carolina, which is used  to make fine porcelain. The author schools the readers on the two types of clay, residual, which stays where it was formed, and sedentary, which moves with the rain and waterways. The Cherokee clay is residual and is hard to find outside of China. 

I found this book informative, but to be honest, I had a hard time getting through some of the sections. There was so much talk about clay and art and the author went back and forth between great-uncles and grandparents and parents, that I got a little overwhelmed. I liked the idea that he was trying to portray a journey and to compare and contrast, but I think it may have been more comprehensive to stick with a main theme, rather than doing the book in sections.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours in return for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 

Have you ever been to North Carolina? Are you interested in pottery, clay or art in general?


  1. The only part of NC I've been to is Charlotte, which is apparently the armpit of Charlotte. No offense to any of your readers who live there, but it is not my favorite city. Actually, it's one of my least favorite cities to visit... But I do want to visit John and his wife, and see other parts of NC, like the Raleigh-Durham area. And the Outer Banks. And the Ashville area. Pretty much anywhere but Charlotte. ;)

    I am not a big arts/crafts person... I have zero interest in that sort of thing, it's just not for me! So I would have struggled w/ this book!

  2. The Appalachian mountains and the people there fascinate me... we just watched an older movie this weekend that included that area, called the Musicologist, I think!

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed parts of this book even if you didn't quite love the overall format. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this for the tour.

  4. Adding this to my list of books to read! It sounds like something I would really like.

  5. I'm not an arts and crafts kinda person either, but the history in this book kept it flowing for me throughout all three sections. While it's hard to miss the artforms, since they were the base of the connections, the people, their circumstances, their travels and their connections with one another and Benfey made for really engaging reading for me. I actually liked the 3 part format...I think if it had been written in straight narrative, the information might have become overwhelming.


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