Special to The Advertiser By Katharine Walton
A hearing set for Monday, March 27 may determine the future of the burglary site.
Meanwhile, police, investigators, and devoted citizens assemble clues.
Pottery stolen nine months ago from the Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society (OEDGS) library’s shelves, included at least one pot believed to have been made by David Drake, confirmed Chief Ronnie Carter of the Edgefield Police Department.
When asked if at least one of the missing vessels was pottery attributed to David Drake, Chief Carter said: “Yes, I believe so.”
David Drake’s name is conspicuously absent from the Crimestoppers news release from December 2022. And the Edgefield pottery theft is currently not on Midland Crimestoppers’ website’s Unsolved Crimes feature.
Adding David Drake’s name to this unsolved mystery amplifies interest, as much as Drake’s signature increases value to his pottery—value to his surviving pots alone and to Old Edgefield Pottery as a whole.
A pre-theft catalog of the Old Edgefield Pottery, with names and descriptions, as well as a list of the 39 missing pots, is not available to publish. Documentation was not shared with Chief Carter. He said, “Documents went missing from the library some time ago. They were reported missing some time ago, before the pots went missing.”
But a list of pots and documentation is said to exist and shows that the missing pottery includes David Drake’s. This list is said to be with state law enforcement and insurance investigators, according to a person with knowledge of the pottery.
“David Drake made many pots he didn’t sign. We know they are Dave and call them ‘examples of his work.’ It’s clear to see a shape and rim and handles made by Dave,” the source said. “Visitors could see them if they wanted to. Now they can’t.”
This source, feeling under pressure, like many others, not to have their name mentioned, stated an interest in seeing the pottery returned. An inventory was in the hands of the person who provided the snapshots posted with the Crimestoppers news release. The four photographs are credited as provided by “owner of the pottery.”
In the forefront of one of the photographs is a large vessel with a distinct roundness, handles, and glaze. It’s the ears and the gaze, the physiognomy, or as Leonard Todd describes in his book Carolina Clay, the imposing shoulders that lead you upon seeing a “Dave Pot” to think “Hello, Dave.”
The unnamed “owner of the pottery” is widely known to be Danny Timmerman, son of the original collector, the late Raymond D. Timmerman.
The original collector, a welcoming fixture in Edgefield, known affectionately as Mr. T., displayed his prized collection at the OEDGS library, where he volunteered, talked about pottery and sometimes even sold a pot here and there on rare occasion, according to Justin Guy, the potter married to Tonya Guy, head of the OEDGS for 23 years.
Justin Guy seems in lone disagreement that any pots of Mr. T’s were David Drake’s work. “To my knowledge Mr. T didn’t own any Dave Drake pots.” The Civic League, he said, may have instructed someone to say that on WRDW-TV.
Drake’s pots are among exceptionally valuable pottery and ceramics. For example, a pot at auction at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, NC, November 2020, signed and inscribed with the singular word “Catination” had a hammer price of $369,000. Then in August 2021, came an Antiques and The Arts headline: “Crocker Farms Smashes American Pottery Record with $1.6 Million Dave Jar.”
Monetary values escalated in years leading up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art launch for Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina. The exhibit, five years in the making, left New York for Boston and will tour to Ann Arbor, MI, Atlanta and—possibly, but unconfirmed—to Charleston, SC, when the International African American Museum opens.
For the Town of Edgefield, an ambitious “David Drake Pottersville” is still in funding stages. A conceptual drawing shows a split rail fence, artist studio, turning shed, kiln, a 106-by-12-foot ghost kiln, a stage, and park grounds. Joanna Rothell, Preservation SC, said the first steps are stabilizing the building, then restoring the building, then creating this living history museum. The building was donated to Preservation SC by George and Beth Thornton.
The Guys have another idea for this site and it includes other arts. “Indigenous arts,” they explained, “like basketweaving, quilts, ironwork, along with Old Edgefield Pottery.” The Guys have experience with living history projects, both with Civil War reenactments, such as the annual Battle of Aiken, and Tonya with deep dives into the Edgefield roots of white settlers, African Americans, and Native Americans. “Not canned genealogy,” she explains, the kind of research that takes time, and for celebrities, too, like 50 Cent, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson.
Assembling Clues Among Escalating Grievances
Chief Carter offers that this was a theft by someone who knows about pottery. He said the pottery wasn’t just taken, it was selected from 8-foot tall shelves and then other pots left behind rearranged to cover up the holes. He said, he thinks they knew how to transport the pots. He said, the DVR from the security camera was missing, and there was no evidence of breaking and entering June 2, 3 or 4, 2022.
Overtaking the conversation about the pottery theft are the disputes between two of Edgefield’s citizen-led nonprofits (OEDGS and its landlord, The Civic League). The two have been in disagreements and the pottery theft site is basically their shared building space. The theft worsened and wedged into the open air simmering differences of the two organizations.
Grievances recently crested with filings of a complaints in the court of common pleas.
Scheduled for Monday, March 27 is Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society v. Edgefield County Civic League. Start time will be between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. at The Court House. On the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Public Index, the judge listed is Judge McCaslin. This is filed as a mediator non-jury case. Beth Thornton is listed as the defendant, president of the ECCL.
This complaint involving in large part ownership and access to the contents of the building where the pots went missing, makes no mention of the pottery. Among the items in contention are not just reels of microfilm and books, there are maps and family histories, journals, photographs.
It was Chief Carter who brought in South Carolina Law Enforcement (SLED) to work as it does as an outside agency offering extra manpower and assistance with investigation to find the pots.
SLED generated press releases for Midlands Crimestoppers (which hosts a hotline and app) to promote their willingness to hear leads toward the pottery’s whereabouts and persons involved. That press release generated a scattering of articles in SC newspapers and local television news in early December.
Special Agent Ross Padgett at SLED, assigned to the case, keeps in touch every few days, Carter said.
“The investigation is active and ongoing,” said Renee Wunderlich, SLED’s public information officer.
Tips coming into the hotline have been so far (the past three months) just a few and “didn’t lead anywhere,” Carter said.
Despite the depth of interest and emotion in Edgefield for the unsolved crime of the missing pots, the leads submitted so far have turned out to be “just a few and not much,” Carter said.
Any bits, shards of knowledge, that can help construct the whereabouts of the missing pottery should be reported. The Midlands Crimestoppers app and hotline 888-CRIME-SC (888-274-6372) funnels information to SLED and then SLED will update Chief Carter. A reward of $1000, provided by sponsoring advertisers to Crimestoppers, is being offered for information that could produce an arrest or find the pottery.
Asked if he would take the pots back, no questions asked, Carter said, “No, someone is going to jail.”
Katharine Walton was the editor of Charleston Magazine and was the founding literary editor of Garden and Gun. She graduated from the University of South Carolina’s College of Journalism.