“Dave the Potter” was a slave in South Carolina, born around 1800. His identity is known because he signed his pots, which can still be found in the area. Not only did he sign them, but he often inscribed poetry and pithy observations on them.
Historians have been able to figure out more about Dave from an examination of the records of the families that ran the principal pottery works in the region and owned Dave. It is believed that Dave had five owners before Emancipation, after which he assumed the last name of his first owner, Harvey Drake.
Today, Dave is considered to have been a master craftsman, and his surviving pots sell for between forty and fifty thousand dollars apiece!
Two books for young readers tell the story of Dave, as imagined by the authors.
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill is a picture book that combines onomatopoeia with earth-toned watercolors by Bryan Collier to tell Dave’s story in a simple, rhythmic and evocative way. With a focus on the pottery-making process, what comes across most to me from the pages of this book are the notions of Dave’s dignity and pride in his work.
Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng is for older readers (Publisher Lee & Low suggests grade 5 and up). In this book, the author imagines Dave’s personal history in verse form, occasionally illustrated by handmade woodcuts also by the author.
I found the story as told by this author absolutely devastating, although I don’t know if younger readers would feel, as strongly as I did, the pain of the injustice and loss suffered by Dave. There is this etching, for example, from one of Dave’s pots:
“I wonder where is all my relation
friendship to all – and, every nation”
August 16, 1857
In fact, however, I imagine that most readers will take away an appreciation of Dave’s triumph over adversity through his courageous insistence on showing the world that, although a slave, he could create, and he could write, and he could be so good at it that he could get away with it.
Evaluation: Both of these books are excellent and both include a lot of historical information appended at the conclusion of the books. I highly recommend each of them!
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave is written by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier, and the publisher is Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010. It received the 2011 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and was a 2011 Caldecott Honor Book.
Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet is written and illustrated by Andrea Cheng, and the publisher is Lee and Low Books, 2013.