“I made this…” will celebrate the lives of eighteenth through twentieth-century Black American artisans and artists through the material culture they created. This Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg exhibition features nearly 30 items from their collection. Objects from both Decorative Arts and Folk Art collections will be displayed in the same gallery contrasting the aesthetics and designs of men and women from different times, places, and backgrounds. These pieces represent the inspirations, resilience, and legacies of these talented makers.
The exhibition’s title quote, “I made this…” comes from David Drake (ca. 1801-ca. 1875), among the more well-known artisans whose work will be featured. Drake is one of the few enslaved potters in 19th-century America whose work can be specifically attributed to him. Working in the Edgefield district of South Carolina, Drake is one of the very few enslaved potters known to sign and date his wares at a time when literacy for the enslaved was illegal. He often inscribed verses on his pots; several began with the words, “I made this….” Drake may have learned to read and write from his first enslaver, Harvey Drake.
A five-gallon jug, made by Drake of ash-glazed stoneware and on view for the first time at the Art Museums, is among the highlights of “I made this…”. Very few two-handled Drake jugs are known, and even fewer are signed and dated. This example, made at Stoney Bluff plantation in Edgefield, is the tallest of his recorded jugs at nearly 20 inches and is a monumental example of his outstanding potting techniques. It is dated “April 26, 1842” on one side and reads “L. Miles Dave” on the other, referencing Lewis J. Miles and Drake himself. Drake began working for Lewis Miles in 1840, while enslaved by John Landrum who died in 1846. In 1849, Miles became Drake’s enslaver.
Special programming at the Art Museums related to the exhibition will include “Expert Insights” talks with Colonial Williamsburg curators and educators who will offer an in-depth look at the Black artists and artisans featured in “I made this…” on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 25, Nov. 1, 8 and 15. On Wednesday afternoons at 3:00 p.m. (Oct. 26, Nov. 2, 9 and 16) visitors can join “Works by Black Artists and Artisans” tours, in which they can tour the museum galleries, including this exhibition, to explore decorative arts and folk art made by Black artists and artisans. Additionally, ““I made this…”: Works by American Black Artists and Artisans Conference” will be held Nov. 10-11, 2023, and will feature keynote lectures from founding members of the Black Craftspeople Digital Archives: Dr. Tiffany Momon, visiting assistant professor at Sewanee: The University of the South, and Dr. Torren Gatson, assistant professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and an opening dinner and presentation specially designed by James Beard Award-Winning Author Michael Twitty. Dr. Bernie Herman, the George B. Tindall Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, rounds out the lineup of guest lecturers. For further information about the conference, please visit at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/learn/conferences or call 800.603.0948.