Storage jar

1857
Dave Drake (or Dave the Potter) (American, about 1800–about 1870), Made for Lewis J. Miles Pottery


Object Place: Edgefield County, South Carolina, United States

Dimensions

Height: 48.3 cm (19 in.) Diam.: 45.1 cm (17 3/4 in.)

Accession Number

1997.10

Medium or Technique

Stoneware with alkaline glaze

On View

Joyce and Edward Linde Gallery (Gallery 237)

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Stoneware

Large bulbous food storage jar with open neck, handles on each side, brown alkaline glaze with irregular greenish streaks.


The Edgefield District of South Carolina, noted for its fine and abundant clays, is one of the South’s leading pottery-making areas. In the years before the Civil War, many of the workers in the area’s potteries were enslaved black men and women. One of these slaves, known for most of his life simply as “Dave the Potter,” was a skilled craftsman who produced aesthetically pleasing and technically accomplished stoneware vessels between about 1830 and 1864. That part of Dave’s story is not necessarily unusual; what is unusual is that Dave was literate and, for whatever reason, his owners allowed him to sign his work. This vessel, for example, is signed “Dave” on each side and dated “Aug. 22, 1857,” a day right in the middle of Dave’s peak production.

Moreover, about 25 percent of Dave’s surviving pots are inscribed with verses-sometimes biblical, often humorous, ironic, or poignant-that reveal his keen intelligence and his facility with language. This capacious example bears the rhymed couplet: “I made this Jar for Cash- / though its called lucre trash.” Dave also added the initials “Lm” for his owner at the time, Lewis Miles, and other inscriptions.
During his life, Dave was bought and sold several times. After emancipation, he adopted the surname of one of his early owners, Drake. Dave apparently passed away between 1870 and 1880, leaving behind an important legacy of vessels that are testimony to his skill and personality and to the ability of the human spirit to express itself even under the most difficult conditions.

This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.

Signed

Signed "Lm Aug. 22, 1857 / Dave"; on other side: "I made this Jar for Cash- / though its called lucre trash / Dave" along with other identifying marks.

Provenance

Acquired by the collector Tony L. Shank, Marion, South Carolina, in 1991; purchased by MFA, 1997, from Tony L. Shank.

Credit Line

Harriet Otis Cruft Fund and Otis Norcross Fund