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by Bryan Collier
Laban Carrick Hill’s Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave (Little, Brown and Co. 2010) is based on the true story of a man born into slavery in 1800, who created 40,000 ceramic pots in his lifetime.
I’m awestruck when I reflect on the flourishing of this man’s genius under the harsh conditions of his life. In my art I celebrate Dave; in spite of all the obstacles he faced, he proved that the human spirit cannot be bound. His art became his protest cry. I like to imagine it was also his dream space, where every time he kicked his potter’s wheel he felt a little bit of freedom.
In the image above, Dave is at his potter’s wheel. I created a golden aura around him to illustrate the speed at which he is making the pots. This aura also speaks to Dave’s spirit; there is something special going on at the wheel.
I added shackles in the upper left-hand corner to remind readers that though Dave was engaged in creating art, he was enslaved. In the same scene, written on the wall behind the pottery are some words. Part of the inscription notes a “Friends meeting.” This alludes to the Underground Railroad and foreshadows that Dave can read and write. Remember, during Dave’s life it was illegal to educate slaves.
Before the clay pots hardened, Dave often stopped his potter’s wheel to write poetry and sign his pots. The image below includes one of Dave’s inscriptions. It reads, “I wonder where is all my relation/friendship to all—and, every nation.”
We know that Dave made tens of thousands of pots during his life; he was really cranking them out. What amazes me is that he wrote his poetry—profound messages in split seconds—then, was on to the next pot.
I marvel at his ability to move beyond his own circumstances to think about “friendship to all—and, every nation.”
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