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



The Black Potters
of Old Edgefield,
South Carolina 


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


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.

Featured Event

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.

David Drake (ca. 1801-1870s), made at Stony Bluff Manufactory, Edgefield District, South Carolina
Storage jar, 1858
Alkaline-glazed stoneware
H: 22 5/8 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Ronald S. Kane Bequest, in memory of Berry B. Tracy, 2020 (2020.7)

Select Objects in this Exhibition

Hear Me Now Audio Guide

This audio guide accompanies Hear Me Now and can either be listened to in the gallery as you walk through the exhibition or on your own.

We’ve invited artists, potters, scholars and community leaders to discuss art, enslavement, and the undying spirit of creative ambition that is at the heart of this show. So, take a listen, and join a conversation that has been more than 150 years in the making.

Listen to Audio Guide

About Potter (Potter once known)

Throughout Hear Me Now and in a few object descriptions above, you may notice that at times there is a blank line at the top of the label where a name is supposed to be. This was an intentional choice to confront the reality of erasure. Many of the vessels on view were created from the exploitation of enslaved peoples, whose labor was claimed by their enslavers and unacknowledged. These blank lines call out this absence. While we currently cannot connect each vessel to a maker, we hope that one day these lines may be filled. In a few exceptional cases, the Edgefield potters signed their wares. In these cases, we attribute the work, knowing that the maker who signed the pot was likely aided by others, as yet unnamed.

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


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 Hear Me Now is provided by Michigan Engineering, the U-M Office of the Provost, the U-M Office of the President, the Americana Foundation, the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the U-M Inclusive History Project, and Michigan Humanities. Additional generous support is provided by Larry and Brenda Thompson and Melissa Kaish and Jonathan Dorfman. 

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