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David Drake: A Potter Who Inscribed His Work With Poetry

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”

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A pot created by David Drake. Wikipedia photo.

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”
According to some collectors and scholars, this message demonstrates “Drake questioning his heritage and personal history … signifies [his] positivity despite facing the many brutalities of slavery, including the loss of personal identity.” Further, by etching what is clearly a personal expression, Drake defied a South Carolina law forbidding Blacks to read and write.
South Carolina’s Negro Act of 1740, prohibited educating enslaved Africans, punishable by a fine of 100 pounds and six months in prison. Most Southern states in the early 1800s restricted Black literacy.
Drake’s date of birth is unclear. It is said that it was during the first half of 1800. The first legal record of him (June 13, 1818) describes “a boy about 17 years old country born … mortgaged to Eldrid Simkins by Harvey Drake.”
The (Harvey) Drake family owned a plantation in Edgefield, S.C. The term “country born” refers to enslaved Blacks born in the United States rather than Africa. David Drake lived and worked in Edgefield’s pottery factories for almost all his life.
David Drake was first enslaved by Harvey Drake, who alongside Abner Landrum, owned a large pottery business. Known to be a religious man, Landrum was the publisher of a local newspaper, The Edgefield Hive. Scholars speculate that he taught Drake to read the Bible, even if doing so was a punishable offense.
After Harvey Drake’s death, David Drake was enslaved by Landrum. In 1846, Landrum passed away. Drake was then purchased and enslaved by Landrum’s son Franklin, who was abusive. While owned by Franklin, Drake never inscribed his works. But Drake’s life, his works, blossomed in 1849, when he was sold to Lewis Miles.
Miles owned the pottery factory, Stony Bluff. There Drake created his best works once again inscribed with poetry. The number of pieces produced increased from one every few years to seven in 1859. Having produced alkaline-glazed stoneware jugs between the 1820s and the 1870s, Drake is recognized as the first enslaved potter to inscribe his work. He became a free man when the Civil War closed (1865).
According to Drake scholar Jill Beute Koverman, Drake created “more than 40,000 pieces over his lifetime.”
When Drake was alive, his pots sold for around 50 cents. Today they fetch as much as $50,000 and have auctioned for as much as $369,000. A butter churn with the inscription “This is a noble churn / fill it up it will never turn,” sold for $130,000.
Various collections including his work can be viewed at museums including the Smithsonian collection of the National Museum of American History in Wash., D.C.
It is thought that Drake died in the 1870s because according to scholars, “he is not found in the 1880 census.”

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Alameda County Arts Commission Public Art Call for Artists – One more week to apply!

The application deadline is Wednesday, September 15, 2021 (10:59pm Pacific Time). For more information about the Call for Artists, please visit the Alameda County Arts Commission’s website at http://www.acgov.org/arts.

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ACAC-Public Art Call for Artists

The Alameda County Arts Commission invites visual artists to submit an application to the new Alameda County Artist Registry, a prequalified list of artists that will be used for upcoming public art opportunities managed by the Alameda County Arts Commission. Public art opportunities will include outdoor and indoor projects with a range of budgets and will be appropriate for artists working in a variety of materials and styles.

The Artist Registry will be primarily used to commission visual artists to create new artwork, however, there may be opportunities to purchase or license existing artwork. Artists interested in being considered for public art opportunities with the Alameda County Arts Commission during the next three to four years should apply.

View the complete Call for Artists for details and additional eligibility requirements at https://bit.ly/ArtistRegistryCall. Applications for the Artist Registry must be submitted online through the CaFÉ™ website at https://bit.ly/ACCAFElink.

The application deadline is Wednesday, September 15, 2021 (10:59pm Pacific Time). For more information about the Call for Artists, please visit the Alameda County Arts Commission’s website at http://www.acgov.org/arts.

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My Park Moment Photo show opens in San Francisco Presidio

While a lot of establishments such as restaurants, movies, amusement parks and places where people gather were closed for the past 18 months because of COVID-19, one of the few places people were able to enjoy themselves was at parks.

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Courtesy of Lee Hubbard

While a lot of establishments such as restaurants, movies, amusement parks and places where people gather were closed for the past 18 months because of COVID-19, one of the few places people were able to enjoy themselves was at parks.

The New York based non-profit Photoville wanted to highlight this. With a partnership with the San Francisco Presidio Trust, Photoville presented the My Park Moment photo show, which celebrates people loving parks.  

The photo show features pictures of people at parks throughout the United States. The exhibit at the Presidio is spread out over 14 acres of new parkland with trails over tunnel tops creating scenic overlooks and picnic sites in a dramatic display of public art. It will be up from now until August of 2022.

“This exhibit is a celebration of community,” said Michael Boland, chief Park Development and Visitor Engagement officer at Presidio Trust. “It shows how we as Americans can enjoy open spaces. How people can have fun, get fit, fall in love and do a lot of things outside at parks.”

There were 7,000 photo submissions from professional photographers to people with cell phones, of which 400 were selected for the exhibit. The photos were picked by a committee of artists, photographers, and cultural critics from throughout the Bay Area. 

Outside of the 400 pictures used in the show, four photographers who submitted multiple works were given stipends and highlighted for their work as Visual Story Award winners.

One of the Visual Story Award winners was Sheilby Macena, an Oakland photographer, who has 12 pictures in the My Park Moment exhibit. Her work focuses on the citizens of Oakland and specifically, the merchants at Lake Merritt during the pandemic.

“My work comes from the exhibit Black Joy at Lake Merritt, which shows Black people at the Lake, during the pandemic, particularly along sellers’ row,” said Macena.

Sellers Row was a group of 20 to 50 vendors who set up along Grand Avenue and Lake Shore Drive in Oakland by Lake Merritt. This scene would often conflict with many of the new residents in the area.

“My pictures showed Black life and it was a great way to document folks. It was a fun time, but you knew it wasn’t going to last,” continued Macena.

It didn’t. Nearby residents complained and media attention was brought to the Lake. Today, vendors at the Lake are required to have permits and there is a heavier police presence then what was taking place during the pandemic.

“The pandemic was hard on people and parks,” continued Boland. “Parks for some were the only outlet for people.”

Marissa Leshnov also had her work featured in the Presidio exhibit one Visual Story Award winners. Her work profiled the Oakland OMies, which showed a group of Black women practicing restorative yoga in the Presidio.

“These women came together as Black women, supporting each other and promoting wellness,” said Leshnov. “It’s important that people see themselves reflected in the art and I hope this brings people out to the Presidio to see the exhibit.”

The San Francisco Post’s coverage of local news in San Francisco County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Horace Pippin: Brushing Struggles on Canvas

Pippin’s work, according to some scholars, depicted the Black experience in America “without an assumption of inferiority or attitudes of protest or satire acquired in defense … but simply and literally from what was inside his head.”

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The Park Bench (detail), 1946, by Horace Pippin (American, 1888–1946), 2016-3-4 ; Photo Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art

It was in 1898 that young Horace Pippin (1888–1946) saw a newspaper ad placed by an art supply company that read: “Draw Me!” Prizes were offered, so he decided to enter. A few weeks went by, and Horace received a box of crayons, a set of water colors, and two brushes as his prize.

Horace knew that he could never have afforded such supplies on his own. He used them to continue as a self-taught artist and later, a painter. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, the West Chester, Pa.–born artist would later use his talent to heal many of his personal struggles: poverty, racism, and fighting in World War I. But first, he would meet life’s hurdles.

At around age 15, Pippin’s stepfather left the family. He then had to leave the segregated school he attended in Goshen, N.Y., and take on a series of odd jobs to help support his family.

While working at a nearby farm, he’d sketched a drawing of his employer taking a nap. The employer was so impressed that he offered to pay to send Pippin to art school. By then though, Pippin’s mother had taken ill. He was her sole support and had to turn the offer down.

Young Pippin also worked as a porter at the St. Elmo Hotel in Goshen, which served well-to-do guests. To Pippin, listening to their conversations and learning about their life experiences was intriguing. One guest was  former president Ulysses S. Grant. The stories about Grant and Abraham Lincoln stuck with Pippin. He captured the tales in his mind—they would appear in his later paintings.

Pippin was a young man of 23 when his mother died. At that time, he relocated to Patterson, N.J., where he worked for a moving company, packing and crating high-end furniture and paintings owned by well-to-do families. This experience exposed him to genres of art he never would have seen otherwise.

Pippin’s exhibition career began in 1937. Galleries showcased themes including landscapes, portraits, biblical subjects, and scenes from his service in World War I. When Pippin’s regiment came under fire, he’d quickly sketch his front-line peers and their surroundings. These would later become his early war paintings. His best-known works address slavery and racial segregation. Collectively, they tell the story of a battle against racism.

His first oil painting, “The Ending of the War, Starting Home,” depicts a military engagement resembling the assault on Sechault, where Pippin was wounded and his regiment decimated. His works reflected scenes from the war several times thereafter in the 1930s and once more in 1945.

Pippin’s work, according to some scholars, depicted the Black experience in America “without an assumption of inferiority or attitudes of protest or satire acquired in defense … but simply and literally from what was inside his head.”

Pippin garnered fame both nationally and internationally. His life and his expressive power, composition and form in his art are an authentic expression of the American spirit.

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