Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

by Andrea Cheng
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Mary Quattlebaum
Andrea Cheng takes the few historical details known about Dave and, in resonant poems and stark, expressive woodcuts, fleshes out his life…A poem is a "valuable thing," Dave says. Through her haunting, honed verse, Cheng has given readers a valuable thing indeed: the life of a quiet rebel.
Children's Literature - Carlee Hallman
Through short poems, illustrated by primitive woodcuts, the life of a slave who became a potter is depicted before, during, and after the Civil War. Pottery owners bought a slave, named him Dave, and showed him how to make pottery. Dave is given Eliza to marry until she is sold. Dave learns to read from a spelling book and writes verse on the pottery. South Carolina passes a law against slaves reading and writing in 1834. Dave is given a new wife, Lydia, who has two boys. While on an errand in town, Dave gets drunk, lies down on the railroad track, and has one leg severed by a train. When one of the pottery owners dies, his widow moves away, taking Lydia and the two boys. Now while Dave works the clay another man turns the wheel. When the second owner dies, Dave is inherited by a cruel task master. Later Lewis Miles, another relative, establishes a new, larger pottery and buys Dave. At the end of the Civil War, Dave is freed. He takes the name Drake, marries, and has a son named David. Notes appear at the end on the history of the area, the Edgefield pottery, Dave's inscriptions, and the author's inspiration. Young people will enjoy this real history of a slave and master potter as celebrated in free verse. Reviewer: Carlee Hallman
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up—The pain of slavery and its disregard for human worth reverberates throughout this beautifully written, beautifully illustrated account of an enslaved potter in South Carolina in the 19th century. Cheng's sensitive verses, written in the voice of Dave and the people involved in his life, share the man's innermost feelings, the sensation of shaping clay on the potter's wheel, and hints at conflicts within a slave owner's mind. But even with a master who seems to have some appreciation of Dave's talents, the ugliness of slavery takes over. The matter-of-fact, unfeeling way in which Eliza, Dave's first wife, is sold off speaks volumes. Dave's need to communicate and be noticed comes out in the risk he takes by inscribing some verse and words on the pots he creates. This deep need squelches any fear of reprisals when literacy was a punishable offense for slaves. Motivated by her belief that everyone needs to read Scriptures in order to be saved, the slave owner's wife started Dave on his quest to read. Through all of the adversity, he stoically carries on despite being sold, despite having loved ones repeatedly taken from him, and despite losing a leg in a train accident, always spurred on by the need to communicate. Cheng has created a passionate homage to the human spirit, which speaks volumes in this brief book. Her woodcuts add another layer to the drama that unfolds in the telling. A powerful and uplifting biography.—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Cheng follows on the Caldecott Honor–winning Dave the Potter, by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier (2010), to further open up the fascinating life of the enslaved potter named Dave for children. Records indicate Dave, who was born in the United States in 1801, was most likely purchased at a slave auction at age 17 by Harvey Drake, who, with his uncles, held the Pottersville Stoneware Manufactory in South Carolina. Dave took to the wheel within weeks and went on to become one of the most accomplished potters in the region. Cheng's spare free-verse poems masterfully highlight the repeated hardships Dave endured: being relocated no fewer than four times when loaned or sold to a new owner; losing two wives when their owners forced them to move to different states; losing his leg after being hit by a train; and, in the face of severe anti-literacy laws designed to keep slaves down, bravely creating art that "etched in clay" his ability to read and write. Says Dave: "I am not afraid / to write on a jar / and fire it hot / so my word / can never be erased." Combining visual art with poetry as Dave did, Cheng includes her own striking woodcuts, illustrating both Dave's experiences and his artistry. At once intimate and universal; the riveting story of an unforgettable life lived during an unbelievable time. (Verse biography. 9 & up)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781600604515
Publisher:
Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date:
01/20/2013
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
1,116,816
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
Lexile:
790L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

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