The story of a 19th-century Edgefield, S.C., slave potter has reached film audiences coast-to-coast and won numerous awards in the nearly two years since its premiere.
Discovering Dave – Spirit Captured in Clay won best documentary at the South Carolina Cultural Film Festival this month and has been screened at festivals in San Diego, Seattle and several South Carolina coastal cities.
The documentary focuses on the story of David Drake, a craftsman who created beautiful pottery during the 1800s.
The film was produced by Mark Albertin, of Scrapbook Video Productions, and George Wingard, of the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program. It premiered in September 2013 at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
The documentary’s far-reaching success has allowed one person’s story to highlight the history of thousands of enslaved brick masons, carpenters and other artisans who contributed skilled work to society, Wingard said.
“Dave did such magnificent work,” he said. “It reminds you that so much other magnificent work was done by former slaves. They are artisans even though their names were lost to time.”
Drake produced thousands of clay vessels in his lifetime. Despite being born into slavery, he learned to read and write and inscribed poetic verses onto many of his pots.
During a 2006 archeological dig at Savannah River Site, Wingard unearthed a large, greenish-glazed shard of stoneware pottery. Nearby, pieces of most of the rest of the jar were found.
The shattered jar had “Dave” inscribed on it as well as its date of manufacture: April 16, 1862. The vessel was similar to his many creations that are housed in private collections and museums that preserve pottery from the “Edgefield District” of South Carolina, known for its
unusual alkaline glaze finish.
Wingard uses the jar found at SRS as an educational tool to help students understand archaeology and local history and culture. Now, copies of the documentary are in nearly all South Carolina school systems as well as many libraries and museums to continue telling Drake’s story.
“(The documentary) almost reads like a diary. The verses on the pots tell his story,” Wingard said. “Over a 30-year period, the vessels tell you a little bit. Our hope is the film tells you a little bit more.”
The film was first runner-up for best documentary at the 2014 Myrtle Beach International Film Festival; first runner-up at the Archaeology Channel Film Festival in Eugene, Ore.; and best South Carolina heritage film at the 2014 Arkhaios Cultural Heritage Film Festival in Hilton Head Island, S.C.