Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
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Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave

4.6 5
by Laban Carrick Hill, Bryan Collier

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To us it is just dirt,
the ground we walk on...
But to Dave it was clay,
the plain and basic stuff upon which he formed a life as a slave nearly 200 years ago.

Dave was an extraordinary artist, poet, and potter living in South Carolina in the 1800s. He combined his superb artistry with deeply observant poetry, carved onto his pots, transcending


To us it is just dirt,
the ground we walk on...
But to Dave it was clay,
the plain and basic stuff upon which he formed a life as a slave nearly 200 years ago.

Dave was an extraordinary artist, poet, and potter living in South Carolina in the 1800s. He combined his superb artistry with deeply observant poetry, carved onto his pots, transcending the limitations he faced as a slave. In this inspiring and lyrical portrayal, National Book Award nominee Laban Carrick Hill's elegantly simple text and award-winning artist Bryan Collier's resplendent, earth-toned illustrations tell Dave's story, a story rich in history, hope, and long-lasting beauty.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Hill's terse but emotionally evocative, poetic text describes the work of an enslaved potter in the 1800s. Known only as Dave, he not only created about forty thousand pots up to forty gallons in size, but also inscribed brief poems on some of them. We can admire them in museums today. Introducing Dave's work Hill writes, "To us it is only dirt..." but to Dave it was "...the plain and basic stuff upon which he learned to form a life...." We follow Dave's carting of the clay to the potter's wheel, the mixing, wedging, and placement on the wheel. And then: "Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat," he pulls the shape of a jar across a foldout page. He finishes the jar, makes the glaze, and writes his words upon it. Collier focuses on the creation of the pots, using mostly watercolor paintings with some collage elements. In these powerful naturalistic images, Dave's creative emotions are clearly evident with a strong sense of the process and the craftsman. Additional facts about Dave's life are included, along with notes by both author and illustrator, photographs of Dave's work, and notes on sources. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 4—The life of an astonishingly prolific and skilled potter who lived and died a slave in 19th-century South Carolina is related in simple, powerful sentences that outline the making of a pot. The movements of Dave's hands are described using familiar, solid verbs: pulling, pinching, squeezing, pounding. Rural imagery—a robin's puffed breast, a carnival wheel—remind readers of Dave's surroundings. The pithy lines themselves recall the short poems that Dave inscribed on his pots. Collier's earth-toned watercolor and collage art extends the story, showing the landscape, materials, and architecture of a South Carolina farm. Alert readers will find hidden messages in some of the collages, but what stands out in these pictures are Dave's hands and eyes, and the strength of his body, reflected in the shape and size of his legendary jars and pots. A lengthy author's note fleshes out what is known of the man's life story and reproduces several of his two-line poems. A photograph of some of Dave's surviving works cements the book's link to the present and lists of print and online resources encourage further exploration. An inspiring story, perfectly presented and sure to prompt classroom discussion and projects. Outstanding in every way.—Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, MD
Kirkus Reviews
The enslaved 19th-century potter Dave, who lived and worked near Edgefield, S.C., could transform 60 pounds of clay into a 40-gallon pot. Hill crafts a poetic tribute that's respectful and playful, much like the potter's own short verse, which was frequently incised onto the shoulders of his handsome stoneware jars. Collier's rich watercolor collages adopt many angles of perspective to reveal the potter's strength and artistry. From above the picture plane on a fold-out spread, he dramatically focuses on four successive stages of creation as "Dave's hands, buried / in the mounded mud, / pulled out the shape of a jar." Backmatter includes a biographical essay interspersing eight of Dave's poems with selected facts. The paragraphs don't always address Dave's often cryptic poems, which could confuse young readers, and the probable biblical basis for some of the excerpted poems is not mentioned. The questionable omission of facts about Dave's emancipation and adoption of the surname Drake relegates young readers to viewing the potter's life in enslaved stasis. Nonetheless, an accomplished, visually stunning homage to an important African-American artist. (author's and illustrator's notes, bibliography, websites) (Picture book/poetry/biography. 7-10)

Tony Horwitz
This extraordinary life deserves wide attention. And, fittingly for a book about an artist, Dave the Potter is beautifully designed and illustrated…[Collier's] work is bold and textured, like Dave's, vividly capturing the earthiness of the potter's craft and the verdant South Carolina landscape outside Dave's workshop. With beautiful economy, Collier also evokes the broader world of slavery by including background glimpses of teetering shanties, rows of cotton, stooped field hands and the corner of a columned mansion.
—The New York Times

Product Details

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
11.00(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.40(d)
AD1100L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Laban Carrick Hill is the author of more than thirty books, including the 2004 National Book Award Finalist Harlem Stomp!, a book he researched for nearly a decade, and America Dreaming, which examines the legacy of the 1960s. He has taught writing at Columbia University, Baruch College, and St. Michael's College and is currently teaching at the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Massachusetts. He is also the cofounder and codirector of the Writers Project of Ghana, based in the US and Ghana.

Bryan Collier began painting at the age of fifteen and earned a B.F.A. with honors from the Pratt Institute in New York. He is the illustrator of over 10 picture books, including Martin's Big Words and Rosa (both Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Award winners) and Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, a New York Times bestseller. Mr. Collier lives in Harlem, where he directs mural programs throughout the city for any child who wants to paint.

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Dave the Potter 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Mudpuppy More than 1 year ago
Dave the Potter is based on the life of enslaved African-American potter, Dave Drake. Dave was born into slavery in the Edgefield District of South Carolina in 1800. Few other potters could master the huge sized pots that Dave made. Aside from his mastery in potting, Dave wrote cryptic poems in the wet clay on the sides of many of his pots. This was during the time when it was against the law for a slave to read or write, punishable by death. Dave not only penned the poems, but also signed and dated many of his pots. Dave was freed after the Civil War and continued to pot until he died around 1875 or so. The book is wonderfully illustrated with the various stages of clay preparation and pottery making. Dave is portrayed as a kind-looking, intent craftsman working in a period shop. The artist created levels of visual interest by incorporating the effect of collage into the illustrations. Dark, rich colors and beautifully portrayed southern pottery surround Dave on shelves and about the floor of his shop. I had a problem with a few of the lines that the writer chose and felt they would go over the heads of the recommended reader's age of 4-6 years (i.e., "if he climbed into the jar and curled into a ball, he would have been embraced"). I think children would enjoy the story, but felt it could have been presented in a more creative way, perhaps with more literary devices. All in all, I think it is a worthy book. It most importantly gives a non-stereotypical view of craftsman in the early years of America and honors this amazing artist.
EGHunter01 More than 1 year ago
*Beautiful color illustrations, vivid and detailed, eye-cathing for readers of all ages. *Using your mind to image what things could be made of dirt, dust, and clay by the potter beyond the ordinary is one aspect of this book. **Wonderful for read-aloud storytime.
lauren_21 More than 1 year ago
Great for all those anxious young read. This book uses a lot of adjectives, but they aren't overused. This book has wonderful illustrations that match well with the author's words. This book takes place in the 1800's in suburbs of the state North Carolina. This book can be used as a wordless text even and have the students who are learning to read could tell you the story through the illustrations. This is a great book to use in classrooms or to just have in your own library. Great story to read again and again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago