Dave the Potter

I'm looking forward to Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill; illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown, 2010), and reviewed in today's Shelf Awareness (9/15/2010).  Dave was a 19th-century potter and poet from South Carolina, where he was enslaved for most of his life.  He inscribed some of his pottery with two-line poems, practical ("put every bit all between / surely this jar will hold 14," indicating that the jar would hold 14 gallons) as well as personal ("I wonder where is all my relation / friendship to all--and, every nation").  In any case, reading and writing, even signing his name (which he also did, in beautiful script, "Dave") was forbidden to slaves, making Dave the Potter's work even more powerful and rare.

Hill's text, fittingly, is also a poem about making a pot, crafted of short, strong lines; Bryan Collier's earth-toned watercolor and collage illustrations provide the larger context (the pairing is described in Brown's review as "a glorious collaboration").  The back matter is thorough and includes some of Dave's poems (I quoted my favorites from them) as well as photographs of his work.  You can even peek inside Dave the Potter using BookBrowse.

Grownups like me who want to know more about Dave should try Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of Slave Potter Dave by Leonard Todd (Norton, 2008).  Todd is a descendant of one of Dave's owners; he began his research after finding out about his family's connection to Dave in this New York Times article ("In a slave's pottery, a saga of courage and beauty," 1/30/2000).  Finally, local folk can see an alkaline-glazed stoneware jar made by Dave the Potter in 1862, on display in the Civil War collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.