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ACC Reads: An Evening with Christopher Benfey
Last night we kicked off the ACC Baltimore Wholesale Show with an enlightening keynote address by Christopher Benfey, author of Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay. After taking the stage, Benfey immediately reached into his satchel and pulled out a small Ben Owen pot. This petite companion traveled with us as we embarked on a journey through Benfey's memoir and the personal meaning and experiences behind its creation.
Benfey began with the origins of his book, which can be partially attributed to conversations he had with friend Edmund De Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes, last year's ACC Reads selection. He then moved on to a discussion of the variety of craft practices, particularly in North Carolina, where Black Mountain College, established in the mid-1930s, and the notable visit in 1952 of English potter Bernard Leach and Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada influenced generations of ceramic artists. Later, a member of the audience noted that still today, the Mingei aesthetics brought to America by Leach and Hamada can be seen even in the works of ceramists at the ACC Shows.
Following a bit of history, we heard some of his personal insights on the nature of collecting, which included an eloquent discussion on what Benfey referred to as "falling in love" with an object. Benfey's belief that an object takes ownership of a collector rather than the other way around was illustrated by his experience with an orange jugtown pitcher he first encountered at his grandmother's house as a child. Benfey concluded his talk by reading one of the most illuminating passages on the role of the handle of a pot from his text, a small portion of which is quoted here: "The handle marks the journey from one world to the other; it is the suspension bridge from the world of art to the world of use."
If you haven't yet picked up a copy of Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay, named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012 by the New York Times, the paperback version published by Penguin will be available next Tuesday, February 26th. For more information on Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay, check out our past ACC Reads blog posts. Also, stay tuned for the video of Benfey's keynote address, which will soon be posted on the ACC's YouTube channel.
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.