Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Freedom Poetry Clay Plates

Susan Kopecki and Michelle Hovan
“Freedom” Clay Poetry Plate
Subject Area(s)
Art, History, Writing
Students in grades 5-8 will see the connection that art makes to a society and a culture by exploring the art of Dave, an enslaved African American Potter from South Caroline who began making pottery before the Civil War, from around the early 1820’s to the mid-to-late 1860’s. Dave is famous for his ability to throw very large pots often up to 40 gallons or more in size and for the fact that he was able to read and write. We know that because his pots were often signed, ‘Dave’ and the pots often contained short poems that he wrote. The poetry and pottery created by Dave serve
as excellent primary source artifacts as we decipher a great deal of information from the poetry about the life and conditions of a slave. The best current estimate is that Dave was born around 1800. Much of the information that historians have been able to assemble on Dave has come from examining the records of the families that ran the principal pottery works in the region. Over time he was bought and sold by the Drake, Gibbs, Miles, and Landrum families. Dave, for example, was the property of Harry Drake until the latter’s death in 1832. After emancipation in the 1860s, Dave took the last name of Drake, perhaps in commemorative remembrance of the man who presumably taught him to be a potter.  We will use the several books on African American Art, along with the Leonard Todd’s book, ‘Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter and ‘Dave’,  an NPR podcast to explore the life of Dave. My students will complete an art unit, combining clay sculpture with a literacy component as they too learn to express themselves through the visual arts, just as Dave, the Potter, did back in the 19th century.

Essential Understanding
Often society and art are reflective of one another.
Art connects us to our past.
Essential Questions
In the world today do we learn as much through visual images as we do through written word?
How do a person’s views, beliefs, and opinions shape the way they view and make art?
How do people express themselves through art?
Where do ideas come from?
CT Standards
CT Social Studies Curriculum Framework:
Content Standard 1-
Content Knowledge: Knowledge of concepts and information from history and social studies is necessary to promote understanding of our nation and our world.
Content Standard 2- History/Social Studies Literacy: Competence in literacy inquiry and research skills is necessary to analyze, evaluate and present history and social studies information.
Content Standard 3-Application:
Civic Competence in addressing
historical issues and current problems requires the use of information, skills and empathic awareness.
CT Art Curriculum Framework:
Content Standard 3- Content:
Students will consider, select and apply a range of subject matter, symbols and ideas.
Content Standard 4- History and Cultures:
Students will understand the visual arts in relation to history and culture.
Content Standard 5- Analysis, interpretation and Evaluation:
Students will reflect upon, describe, analyze, interpret and evaluate their own and others’ work.

Students will create a clay plate that will be inscribed with a couplet they have written on freedom, inspired by the work of a slave named Dave, the potter.

Clay, clay tools, glaze, underglaze, paint brushes, water, pencils, sketch paper, plate/draped cloth
Day 1

Details of the ActivityStudents will see a Power Point on the history and life of ‘‘Dave the Potter’, view some examples of his work and listen to a podcast written by a currant author on Dave’s life.
*Assign homework:
Author Leonard Todd's new book, Carolina Clay, explores the life,art and legacy of a slave potter named Dave. Todd offers a personal perspective on the history of slavery: His great-great grandfather owned Dave.
All resources, including Power Point can be viewed on the blog created for this lesson on African American Slave Pottery:
Art Homework:



We have just discovered how Dave the Potter used Art to express himself and share details of his life with poetry.  Please write a couplet, 2-3 lines, rhyming or not, that represent your thoughts on freedom. Because the rhyme comes so quickly in rhyming couplets, it tends to call attention to itself. Think also about your font.

Day 2

Pass out Handout ‘Verses Made By Dave’ to class.
How do these verses let us know what life might have been like for a slave like Dave?

Verses on Vessels Made by Dave_ 
Put every bit all between
surely this jar will hold 14
12 July 1834
Horses, mules and hogs-
all our cows is in the bogs-
there they shall ever stay
till the buzzards take them away
29 March 1836
A better thing I never saw
When I shot off the lions jaw
9 November 1836
Ladies & gentlemens shoes
Sell all you can & nothing you’ll loose
29 January 1840
Give me silver; either gold
Though they are dangerous; to our soul
27 July 1840
Dave belongs to Mr. Miles
Wher the oven bakes & the pot biles
31 July 1840
Another trick is worst than this
Dearest Miss, spare me a kiss
26 August 1840
I wonder where is all my relations
Friendship to all – and every nation
16 August 1857
made this jar for cash
Though it is called lucre trash
22 August 1857
Making this jar: I had all thoughts
Lads & gentlemen: never out walks
30 January 1858
If you don’t listen at the bible
You will be lost
25 March 1859
I made this for our Sott
it will never - never – rott
31 March 1858
This noble jar will hold 20
fill it with silver then you’ll have plenty
8 April, 1858
A very large jar which has four handles
pack it full of fresh meat - then light candles
12 April, 1858
The sun, moon and – stars
in the west are plenty of – bears
29 July 1858
I saw a leopard & a lions face
than I felt the need of - grace
3 November 1858
When Noble Dr. Landrum is dead
May Guardian angels visit his bed
14 April 1859
Hive is eighteen; hundred + fifty nine
unto you all I fill in---cline
18 April 1859
Good for lard and holding fresh meats
blest we were, when Peter saw the folded sheets
3 May 1859
Made at Stoney Bluff
for making lard enuff
13 May 1859
Great & noble jar
hold sheep goat and bear
13 May 1859
The forth of July is surely come
to blow the fife = and beat the drum.
4 July 1859
I saw a leopard & a lions face
then I felt, the need of grace
7 August 1860
A noble jar for pork or beef
Then carry it a round to the indian chief
9 November1860
I – made this jar all of cross
If you don’t repent, you will be lost
3 May 1862

Day 3

Clay construction
Clay Slab Construction
1. Using slab-rolling machine, roll out one large slab (15x15) per student and place on a plate draped in cloth. If you don’t have a slab roller, students will roll out a large piece of clay on a piece of cloth, using a rolling pin.  Encourage even thickness with slab.
2. Press clay slab into a plate lined with a piece of cloth (prevent sticking) and cut edges to fit the size of the plate. Smooth edges of plate with a small wet sponge, ridding the clay of jagged edges or imperfections. Textures, details or patterns made be added to edge.
3. Details may also be added to the plate, decorative elements (leaves, flowers, shapes) but remind students that the majority of the clay surface will be for their couplet.
4.  Clay slab must dry for one week and be bisque fired in a kiln.
6. Using underglazes (various colors) and very small brushes students will paint their couplet onto the clay plate. Pencils may be used first to space the writing. Pencil line will burn off so it isn’t necessary to erase mistakes.  Decorative elements or patterns may be painted on the plate. Be sure underglaze is applied in 2 coats to ensure coverage, encourage darker colors or outlining as an option too.
7. Clear glaze is then sponged onto the entire plate (except the bottom) and plate is then fired for the 2nd time. Do not glaze bottom of plate, but edges may be sponged. Clear glaze should be lightly sponged on, never rubbed or smearing will occur.

  * Pre-made plates made be ordered from clay companies, eliminating need for rolling out own clay plate. 
   * Bowls, dishes or platters may also be used.

Again: All resources can be viewed on the blog created for this lesson on African American Slave Pottery:

Clay Poetry Plate Rubric
Activity           Use of Materials    Concept  Effort

Clay construction

Under glaze application

2-Above Average
4-Below Average


Name_______________________Overall Grade__________

Possible Extensions/Resources
*Introduce contemporary African American Artists such as
Romare Bearden “Roots Odyssey”

Student Working On Clay Plates

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