Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina

COMING SOON

Hear Me Now

The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina 

Curators
Jason Young, Professor of History, University of Michigan; Adrienne Spinozzi, Associate Curator, American Wing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Ethan Lasser, John Moors Cabot Chair, Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

On View
August 26, 2023 — January 7, 2024

Unidentified potters, Edgefield District, South Carolina
Three Face Vessels, ca. mid-19th century
Alkaline-glazed stoneware with kaolin inserts
H: (from left to right) 7 in., 10 1/4 in., 7 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art(from left to right) Rogers Fund, 1922 (22.26.4); Purchase, Nancy Dunn Revocable Trust Gift, 2017 (2017.310); Lent by April L. Hynes (L.2014.16)

Confront the past and celebrate the creative voices of an untold chapter of American history

Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina is a landmark exhibition of more than 60 objects representing the work of African American potters in the decades surrounding the Civil War. 

It is a reckoning with the central role that enslaved and free Black potters played in the long-standing stoneware traditions of Edgefield, South Carolina. It is also an important story about the unrelenting power of artistic expression and creativity, even while under the brutal conditions of slavery—and about the joy, struggle, creative ambition, and lived experience of African Americans in the 19th-century American South.

The exhibition features many objects rarely seen outside of the South, bringing together monumental storage jars by the enslaved and literate potter and poet Dave, later recorded as David Drake (about 1800–about 1870), along with rare examples of the region’s utilitarian wares and powerful face vessels by potters once known but unrecorded. 

The inclusion of several contemporary works from leading Black artists links the past to the present in Hear Me Now. Established figures like Theaster Gates and Simone Leigh, as well as younger, emerging artists like Adebunmi Gbadebo, and Woody De Othello have contributed to the exhibition. Working primarily in clay, these artists respond to the legacy of the Edgefield potters and consider the resonance of this history for audiences today.

About Dave

Monumental in scale and inscribed with flourishes of cursive script, many pots on view for Hear Me Now are the work of Edgefield’s best-known artist: the enslaved potter and poet known as Dave, who by the late 1860s appears in official documentation as David Drake. Dave likely made thousands of vessels, and beginning in the 1830s he signed, dated, and inscribed dozens of pots with short verses. He worked at a time when South Carolina law explicitly prohibited enslaved people from learning to read or write. At their core, Dave’s inscriptions were acts of defiance.

Exhibition Catalog

This 200-page fully illustrated catalog presents groundbreaking scholarship and new perspectives on the stoneware made in Edgefield, South Carolina. Including essays from curators, artists, and scholars that explore the production, collection, dispersal, and reception of stoneware from Edgefield and offer a critical look at what it means to collect, exhibit, and interpret objects made by enslaved artisans.

Available to purchase at the UMMA Shop

Support

Hear Me Now is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with support from the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation.

Lead support for UMMA's presentation of the exhibition is provided by Michigan Engineering, the University of Michigan Office of the Provost, and Michigan Humanities. Additional generous support is provided by Larry and Brenda Thompson and Melissa Kaish and Jonathan Dorfman.