Praise Songs for Dave the Potter: Art and Poetry for David Drake

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David Drake is recognized as one of the United States’ most accomplished nineteenth-century potters. Yet, though his pots—many inscribed with original verse—sit in museums across the nation, he is too often passed over when considering the early foundations of African American poetry. Born in South Carolina at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Drake produced hundreds of pieces while under the surveillance of the enslavers who claimed him and his work as their property. Still, asserts P. Gabrielle Foreman, he is perhaps the only Black person in all of the free or slave states whose literary work was preserved in neither books nor pamphlets nor newspapers. His pots and jars served as pages as well as ceramic vessels.

This book examines how Drake’s pottery and poetry have inspired visual artists and poets who claim him as an artistic ancestor. It features the Sir Dave (1998) series by artist Jonathan Green, including thirteen paintings that have never been exhibited or published together before. Accompanying and in dialogue with Green’s paintings is a twenty-poem cycle called All My Relation (2015) by Glenis Redmond.

Praise Songs includes the editor’s interview of Redmond and Green and essays by Redmond, Foreman, and Lynnette Young Overby, the artistic director of a 2014 collaboration and performance featuring both Green’s and Redmond’s work. As one of the first volumes to focus on David Drake’s legacy as a writer, it also includes an updated compilation of all of his poetic inscriptions. This volume presents the artistic legacy of one of the most well-known Black potters, and one of the most innovative and underappreciated enslaved poets, of the nineteenth century.