Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is the proud new owner of a David Drake poem jar, the highlight of Crocker Farms Summer auction. Drake, born in 1801, was a leading African American artist from South Carolina and has become known for his pottery and poetry.
Drake was enslaved most of his life by various owners, all of whom were pottery manufacturers, and continued to work as a potter even after his emancipation. It is important to note that very few enslaved artists’ names are known today as it was illegal for them to learn how to read and write. Drake was quite the exception; he inscribed many of the pieces he created with poetry and signed and dated his work.
The jar exemplifies Drake’s work; it is a twenty–five–gallon four-handled stoneware jar; on one side, it is signed “Lm. April 12, 1858/Dave and on the other side, a short verse is inscribed:
‘A very Large Jar which has four handles/
pack it full of fresh meats – then light the candles.”
Jars like these were used to store meat and then were sealed with candle wax for preservation. Once filled, they could weigh 150 pounds and needed two people to carry them. (I bet you appreciate your butcher’s delivery service!)
The jar was estimated to make $300-600K, but apparently, there were some determined bidders. Crystal Bridges Museum has a very generous acquisition fund, which enabled them to defeat the competition as the hammer came down at $1.3M ($1.56M w/p), the highest auction price achieved for American pottery. Curator Barron Bailly said, “This is a rare and important acquisition to help tell the stories of craft, American history, enslavement, the meat industry, relationships between labor and art, and so much more.”
As Crystal Bridges is committed to showcasing American art created over the past five centuries, it is really nice to know that this important piece will now be available for all to enjoy.