Published: August 7, 2021
SPARKS, MD.— The hammer for Dave Drake’s 25-gallon stoneware jar fell with gusto at $1.3 million at Crocker Farm’s summer sale, which closed the morning of August 7. With premium, the four-handled jar sold for $1,560,000 to an American museum, nearly doubling the previous American pottery auction record set by an $800,000 result for the John Bartlam teapot at Woolley and Wallis in 2018.
Interest in the Nineteenth Century enslaved Black potter Dave Drake’s work is at an all-time high, this is the fourth artist auction record established for the potter since May 2020. It beat the last high bar for the artist, set by Brunk in November, 2020 at $369,000, by well over $1 million.
Auction partner Mark Zipp said four museums were the last bidders standing and none had bid with his firm on a work by Dave in the past.
Crocker Farm is among the only specialist auction houses for American pottery in the United States and Zipp related that his family was thrilled to hold the new record.
“Having the record means a lot to us, but it also speaks to where the American stoneware market is headed,” he said. “To see utilitarian pottery and not art pottery set that record, it’s a big deal. It puts stoneware where it deserves to be placed in the context of American art. It’s also a testament to Dave’s genius and Dave’s story. We’re obviously very happy to see his work get the recognition it deserves.”
The jar was discovered 50 years ago by Southern folk historian and author Dr. John Burrison. Crocker Farm called it “among David Drake’s greatest known works.” They qualified the statement writing, “Several factors–its size, form, glaze, and, most importantly, inclusion of an incised poem–define it as such.”
It is among the largest of Drake’s known works and one of four documented examples with four handles. At 24 1/2 inches high and carrying 25 gallons, the extra handles were necessary so that two people could lift it when full.
As the work was too large to be dipped, the alkaline olive-green glaze was instead poured over the piece, giving it an aesthetic not seen in many works by Drake.
Among the most alluring features of the jar was the poem the potter incised into it: “A very Large Jar which has 4 handles / pack it full of fresh meats- then light candles.” Less than 35 of Drake’s poem jars are known and they are considered the most important examples within his body of work, given that enslaved African Americans, or people of African descent, were not taught or allowed to read and write during this time. The poem is believed to be a reference to its intended purpose as a meat jar and the practice of sealing the lid with candle wax.
The jar is dated and signed “Lm. April 12 . 1858 / Dave.” The Lm standing for Lewis Miles, Drake’s owner, who operated a stoneware manufactory at Stony Bluff, located in the Horse Creek Valley region of South Carolina’s Edgefield District from 1840 t0 1868. The auction house noted this example fits within a three-week period that includes three other known poem jars, including one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
When the auction house wrote, “This jar is among the most widely-published American ceramic works that we are aware of,” the catalogers were not exaggerating. Its consignor, John Burrison, included it in at least four writings and it was mentioned or illustrated in at least 11 other books or scholarly articles.
The jar survived with a base chip and no cracks.
The auction house also set a record for Anna Pottery when it sold the 1873 “Liberty Monument” for $600,000. Zipp called it a masterwork and among the best pieces ever made at that pottery.
A full report of Crocker Farm’s Summer sale will follow.
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