Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill

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I read so much about this book before actually seeing it, and my hopes were high. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.  Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill is a thoughtful and beautiful book.  Dave’s last name is unknown.  He was a slave in South Carolina in the 1800s.  Dave was also a skilled poet and artist.  Hill’s book is made more powerful by its illustrations. Bryan Collier, the award-winning illustrator of Martin’s Big Words and Rosa, is known for paintings that enrich the story and make statements about the significance of his book’s subjects. In one fold-out sequence, the step-by-step process of creating a pot fills the pages with images of Dave’s strong hands creating a jar.

As the text explains, when Dave was nearly finished with one of his pots, he “picked up a stick and wrote to let us know that he was here.” This short poem, written on a pot he made in 1857, is haunting:

“I wonder where is all my relation

friendship to all – and, every nation”

Dave the Potter is an excellent book to use in either an art or American history class.  I think young students would be fascinated by the process of creating something so beautiful out of dirt.  For older students, this is the perfect introduction to the influences of African Americans on American art.

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