Thursday, June 21, 2012

1859 and Dave the Potter

1856-60 Blogging, Part 2 of 5
Dave the Potter’s Storage Jar

In these long breaks between the signature 21 Essays series, I’m experimenting with a new feature focused on possibilities for future series.  I’ll spin the roulette wheel to pick a year (or set of years) and then brainstorm on some potential essay topics.  This time the wheel spins, gradually slows, then clicks to a stop, pointing at:  1856-1860. 

So here’s an 1859 series possibility:  21 essays on Dave the Potter and his magnificent storage jar at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Storage Jar made by David Drake (Dave the Potter),
American, 1800 - c. 1870.  Made in Edgefield,
 South Carolina in 1859.  Alkaline-glazed stoneware,
26 1/2 x 15 1/2 (67.3 x 39.4 cm.).
Philadelphia Museum of Art

This pot is incredible.  It stands over two feet high and  it’s 15 inches wide.  To make a pot this big, you would have to be capable of manipulating a huge quantity of clay on the wheel.  To get it this perfect, you’d have to be a master craftsman.

Dave the Potter was a slave who worked for stoneware potters in the Old Edgefield District of South Carolina.  He was probably in his late 50s when he made this pot.  Unlike most slaves, he was literate and was known for writing distinctive verses on his pots.  This particular storage jar is inscribed:  “Good for lard or holding fresh meat,/blest we were when peter saw the folded sheet.”  Also, the pot has the initials LM which would stand for Lewis Miles, owner of the pottery, and it’s signed by the artist:  “May 3d 1859/Dave.”

At one time almost lost to the mists of history, Dave the Potter is now recognized as a master craftsman of the 19th century and his works deserve to be celebrated.

Over the next three days, I’ll be proposing some more 1856-60 ideas (with no promises that I’ll necessarily be getting to any of them…).  But I’m wide open to other suggestions.  Any ideas for 1856-60 books, short stories, poems, songs, or other cultural artifacts that might inspire a good 21 Essays series?

© 2012 Lee Price

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