After discovering that they are the descendants of Dave the Potter, a famous Black potter who created masterpieces while enslaved in the 1800s, one family is asking why they have not seen the millions of dollars made from the artifacts.
According to The Washington Post, the family has questions about how their ancestor’s legacy is being handled. David Drake, also known as Dave the Potter, was born around 1800 and died in the 1870s.
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“It really saddened me,” said Daisy Whitner, a family member of Drake to The Washington Post in a Zoom interview. “I wondered how much blood and sweat he put into making these pieces. He had to shed tears as he was wondering where his relations were, who had been torn away from him.”
In 2016, Whitner and her siblings were contacted by a genealogist with the news that they had a connection to Dave the Potter. Today, he is remembered for his stoneware works, which include quotes and sayings that he risked his life to etch into the clay he was required to create during slavery.
“We had no idea,” said Whitner’s brother, John N. Williams. “We knew about slavery because we read it in the history books. But to know your ancestor was a part of that opened a flood of emotions. One was joy that you know who they are and the other was sorrow for what they went through.”
Dave the Potter
Today, the outlet reports Drake’s art is the focal point for many through a traveling exhibit called “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield California,” which is currently at its Boston, MA, stop.
Antique dealers across the nation credit his work because of its quality. Most of the “alkaline-glazed jugs” feature Drake’s signature, which was a huge risk as slaves who were often punished for being able to read and write. Other pieces include short poems that give those who encounter them insight into his life.
It is believed that Drake created roughly 40,000 pieces throughout the duration of his lifetime. Most of which he did not receive any payment for, The Washington Post reports.
When sold today, Dave the Potter’s pieces go for upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. If inscribed, the price is even higher. In 2021, one of the pieces of art with his inscription sold for a reported $1.56 million.
Continuing His Legacy
The Whitner family, who does not own a single piece of their relative’s art, often wonder where the profits for the work end up.
“Why do some feel African Americans do not deserve restitution?” Whitner’s sister, Pauline Baker, asked. “We basically built this economy as enslaved people.”
In the future, the Whitner family hopes to own a portion of Drake’s legacy and create a scholarship fund in his memory to help young Black students.
“There is always a need for supporting education in our community,” Pauline Baker said. “If we cannot benefit, I think they should create something like that.”