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Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet Hardcover – January 15, 2013
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In this novelized biography in verse, Cheng limns the life of Dave (his only name), an enslaved nineteenth-century potter and poet. Owned by various members of the Landrum/Drake/Miles families, Dave became a master potter as a young man. Equally significant is the fact that he was literate and made it a habit to sign his pots, jugs, and jars, and often to add simple verses (“Dave belongs to Mr. Miles / wher the oven bakes & the pot biles”). This was remarkably brave at a time when South Carolina’s slave-literacy law could have resulted in his being whipped, maimed, or even killed for this simple act. Dave stubbornly persisted, impressing on his work his own humanity, and approximately 170 of his aesthetically and culturally significant vessels survive in museums and private collections. Cheng illustrates her stirring work with her own simple black-and-white woodcuts. Appended material adds additional information about Dave’s life and the Edgefield Pottery, of which his work is an example. Grades 5-8. --Cart, Michael
From the Inside Flap
Sometime around 1815, an enslaved young man named Dave was brought to Edgefield, South Carolina, the center of a pottery-producing area known for the alkaline glazes used on the stoneware. Dave was taught how to turn pots and jars on a pottery wheel by one of his first owners. As Dave's talent flourished, he created pieces of great beauty and often massive size. He also somehow learned to read and write, in spite of South Carolina's strongly-held fear of slave literacy. And then Dave did something even more incredible he began to sign his jars and carve many of them with sayings and poems that reflected his daily life and experiences. He spoke out against slavery not by protesting or revolting, but by daring to write at all.
Andrea Cheng has crafted a biography in verse as beautiful as one of Dave's jars. In simple, powerful words, including some of Dave's original writings, we learn his extraordinary story of courage, creative inspiration, and triumph. Today Dave is considered to be a master craftsperson whose jars are among the most sought-after pieces of Edgefield pottery.
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