This has been a very big year for David Drake, the superb 19th-century Edgefield artisan also known as Dave the Potter. In April, he entered the South Carolina Hall of Fame; in July, over thirty members of what is thought to be his family came from as far away as Washington, DC, to honor him on Edgefield’s first “Dave Day.”
And now, to top it off, his work is being exhibited in three major museum shows:
The first exhibition opened the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, on the Mall in our nation’s capital. There are approximately 3,000 objects on view, but the curators ranked an 1852 jar by Dave as number seven in a list of “the most emotionally and historically resonant treasures in the collection that no visitor should miss.” (The Washington Post, September 23, 2016)
The second show is devoted entirely to Dave’s work. “David Drake: Potter and Poet” opened on September 24 at one of Florida’s finest cultural institutions, the Vero Beach Museum of Art. Edgefield resident, Leonard Todd, who is Dave’s biographer, gave the opening night address. In the midst of numerous signed and dated pots, two magnificent poem jars stood out, each inscribed with an original couplet by the potter. This one, dated December 6, 1858, is a preamble to Christmas:
nineteen days before Christmas — Eve — /
Lots of people after its over, how they will greave,
Dave’s inscriptions, often enigmatic or witty, were written at a time when it was against the law to teach slaves to write. They are one of the features of his work that makes it fascinating to us today.
The third exhibition takes David Drake to an international audience. His work is on display in Paris at the Musee du Quai Branly, in a show entitled “The Color Line,” which examines the work of African American artists and the effect that segregation had on it. A large Dave jar, made in 1858, is the first work of art that visitors see when they enter the show, which opened on October 4.
“Discovering Dave,” the award-winning documentary by area filmmakers George Wingard and Mark Albertin, has also crossed the Atlantic. The I Filmmaker International Film Festival in Marbella, Spain, has chosen it as a finalist in this year’s competition.
You don’t have to travel, however, to see Dave’s work. Here in Edgefield, a pot bearing his mark is on display at The Phoenix Factory, Justin Guy’s pottery studio at 230 Simkins Street, open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 to 4. Pots attributed to him are at the Tompkins Library on Courthouse Square, open Monday through Friday, 9 to 4, and Saturday, 9:30 to 1:30.
A fully signed Dave jar is on exhibit in the lobby of the Discovery Center on Main Street, open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 to 4. He inscribed the date on it— Oct 23, 1855—along with “Lm,” the initials of Lewis Miles, the owner of the pottery where he worked at the time. While at the Discovery Center, don’t miss a two-foot-tall jar by the contemporary potter Michele Bayne. Made in 2006 to honor David Drake, it is encircled by all the poems known at that time to have been written by him.
They go round and round the jar, one after the other—Dave without end.