Although free and enslaved black Americans formed a great part of the artisan workforce, relatively few have been recognized for their creative contributions. The history of the potter known as Dave has slowly been recovered, in large part because of his own brave assertion of self through signatures and poetic texts that he incised into the clay bodies of the pots he made 1834–1864. More than one hundred examples bear his name or date, and twenty-six have snippets of original poetry and observations. A seventeen-year period with no poetic inscriptions may indicate an environment hostile to such expressions of individuality.
Dave lived in the household of Harvey Drake until 1833. The earliest piece possibly by his hand is dated 1821 and was made in Drake’s factory. In the ensuing years he worked for and was traded among potteries in the Edgefield district known as Pottersville, whose owners—Drake, Gibbs, Landrum, Miles, Rhodes—were interrelated by partnerships and through marriage. Dave ultimately became one of two identified Edgefield potters capable of making pots with a capacity greater than twenty gallons. His method of construction for such large vessels involved turning the base on a wheel then adding coils that were smoothed as the walls were built up. This simple ovoid jug was made at the pottery of Lewis J. Miles and was probably used as a syrup or whiskey jug. During the years he was associated with Miles, Dave developed the drippy ash-based alkaline glaze evident on this jug. After Emancipation Dave took the surname of his first owner, Drake. In the Federal Census of 1870 he is listed as David Drake, occupation turner.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Jug,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.