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Gallery Text

This jar is the earliest known vessel signed and dated by David Drake, an enslaved African American potter who made alkaline-glazed stoneware jars and jugs in the Edgefield District of South Carolina in the mid-19th century. Also known as Dave the Potter, Drake dated and frequently signed his vessels; occasionally he inscribed them with rhyming couplets. On the shoulder of this jar, Drake inscribed the date (“January 27, 1840”), his name, and a reference to his owner (“Mr. Miles,” or Lewis Miles). Sturdy jars and jugs like these are fundamentally the products of enslavement; they were produced by slaves for Southern plantations, which required substantial, durable vessels to preserve and store food for a large labor force. Drake’s pottery stands out, however, because it advertised his skill and literacy at a time when it was illegal for slaves to read and write in South Carolina.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
2016.194
People
David Drake, American (Edgefield County, South Carolina c. 1800 - c. 1870 probably Edgefield County, South Carolina)
Title
Storage Jar
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
1840
Culture
American
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/356376
Location
Level 2, Room 2100, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Centuries of Tradition, Changing Times: Art for an Uncertain Age
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Stoneware
Dimensions
41 × 38 cm (16 1/8 × 14 15/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: incised into vessel, under rim: Mr Miles Dave \\
  • inscription: incised into vessel, under rim: January 27th 1840
  • inscription: upper left, above inscription: [5 punctures]
Provenance
Jimmy Smith, Greenville, South Carolina, 1980s, sold; to Tom Smith, Shelby, North Carolina, sold; [through Phil Winged, Clover South Carolina]; to Dr. John Hoar, Huntsville, Alabama, sold; [through Robert Hunter British and American Porcelain and Pottery], sold; to Harvard Art Museums, 2016.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Anonymous Fund in memory of Henry Berg; bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, by exchange; gift of C. R. Simpkins, "A Tribute to the Class of 1892.", by exchange; gift of Mrs. Henry James, by exchange; and gift of Mrs. George R. Agassiz, by exchange
Accession Year
2016
Object Number
2016.194
Division
European and American Art
Contact
am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu
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Publication History

"New Acquisitions", American Ceramic Circle Newsletter, American Ceramic Circle (Williamsburg, Virginia, Fall 2017), pp. 21-31, p. 23, repr.

Sophie Lynford, Natalia Vieyra, and Joanna Sheers Seidenstein, "In Honor of Juneteenth", Index Magazine, Harvard Art Museums ([e-journal], June 19, 2020), https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/article/in-honor-of-juneteenth, accessed June 29, 2020

Exhibition History

32Q: 2100 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2017 - 11/08/2018; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/04/2021 - 01/01/2050

32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/31/2019 - 01/08/2020

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This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu