Monday, March 29, 2010

Dave the Slave

So far nothing saved digitally (see below) has lasted as long as information painted an eon ago onto the walls of caves, carved four millennia ago into the stones of tombs, printed five centuries ago across vellum and paper, or incised a hundred and fifty years ago in the wet clay of a newly made jar.

If you’re interested in pottery, or if you watch Antiques Roadshow, you might have heard of Dave Drake, better known as Dave the Slave, who lived in western South Carolina where he turned fine stoneware in the 1800s. Leonard Todd came across Dave’s work in a museum and was astonished to learn that Dave had worked in Todd’s family's potteries. Todd’s ancestors owned Dave! The revelation led Todd to move back to his native South Carolina and reconstruct as much of Dave’s life as he could from the bits and pieces of information we have about the lives of slaves. The result is Carolina Clay: the Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave. It’s the biography of a man who made art in spite of crushing repression, and his connection to the author’s family.

Dave wrote poetry on many of his pots which is remarkable because it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write. A literate slave was wise to pretend that he was not. Dave's writings testify to his value and renown as a potter, and, Todd hopes, prove that at least a few of Todd's ancestors treated slaves better than was custom.

Click the link to place a hold on Carolina Clay through the library's catalog; check out the sites below for more information about Dave's pottery and the work done by other potters in western South Carolina and eastern Georgia; and watch for a future blog entry about the Federal Writer's Project, the depression-era government work program during which the slave narratives were collected, creating one of the sources from which Todd drew Dave's biography.

Edgefield Pottery District
Slave Narratives, Library of Congress

1 comment:

Donita Smith said...

Good post, Tim. I have seen Dave's pots on Antiques Roadshow. How cool that there's now a book to tell his story. Nice-looking cover, too.

Uh-oh. My broadband is going out again. this might not go through. Carry on without me!