As I endeavor into this new medium, I've been thinking about enslavement, reconstruction, capture, and fugitivity — how vessels show up in our sense of reality and lived experiences. How often time craft was simultaneously what kept you in bondage and sometimes the only immediate means of escapement.
Black enslaved potters had a fraught relationship to the earth — one of divinity and torture. I think about wading in the water, I think about picking cotton, I think about Ring Shouting in the Sea Islands, I think about grand and petit marronage, I think about blood on the leaves, and I think about enslaved potters forming earth. Reconstructing using earth, air, water and fire during reconstruction. Caught in between — how do we remember the space within that vessel? Maybe by making new forms.
My craft practice is deeply rooted in research and this Kurinuki Collection is no different. Deeply moved and curious about all the Black potters I could find, I sowed my rage into the carving and oxide applications of my clay forms and paid tribute to the legacy of craft I hope to help uphold through my work and this postcard series.
With the purchase of each Kurinuki Cup each supporter receives a postcard featuring the name of a Black potter, an example of their work, and the approximate date the work was created. Regarding the potter named Harry, historical documents show he was "leased" by a Nathaniel Ramey, but I could not find Harry's last name. I was also unable to find attributions of pots made by enslaved or free Black women in the 19th century. There is research that states Miles Mills oversaw the work of women laborers in Edgefield. Here is an Appendix of possible women laborers of Edgefield.
APPENDIX A: Edgefield District African American Potters and Associated Laborers (1790–1900)
- Mary Bodie (1867)
- Bettie Bonham (1866)
- Fanny Bonham (1866)
- Polly Bonham (1866)
- Mariah Day (1866)
- Eliza Griffin (1867)
- Caroline Jones (b. 1840)
- Lucinda Justice
- Eliza Landrum
- Martha Mays (1867)
- Harriet Miles
- Silvy Miles
- Martha Pitts (1866)
- Cue (Que, Queen) Pope (b. 1830)
- Lucy Ranford (1805)
- Harriet Rhodes
- Kitty Thurman (Most likely related to Jack Thurman cited below)
- May (1840)
- Judy (1840)
- Caroline (1847) (Caroline Miles was the wife of potter, Mark Jones)
- Ann (1848)
- Adilla (1856)
- Amy (1856)
- Harriet (1856)
- Jesse (1856)
- Adeline (1862)
- Caroline (1862)
- Jane (1862)
- Jesse (1862)
- Nacy (1862)
- Sarah (1862)
- Vina (1862)
- Jesse (1866)
- Kitty (1866)
- Selia (1866)
- Cindy (1866)
- Rose (b.1800) (Possibly Rose Brister)
- Eliza (b. 1815)
- Herietta Wever (1866)
- Lizzie Williams (b. 1856) (Works in Jug Factory)
- Milledge Williams (b. 1835-1840) (Works in Jug Factory)
- Allice Williams
Here I have focused on listing the names of associated potters and turners I presume to be women, listing their name and year(s) at the location of John Landrum Pottery or B.F Landrum Pottery. If anyone has any information on attributed work of 19th century Black American women potters, I'd love to learn more. Please reach out at email@example.com.
If you find this research engaging your curiosity and inspiring ideas for your own work or practices, please consider purchasing a vessel from Kurinuki Cups Batch no. 1. This monetary support of my craft enables me to continue this research and maintain spiritual healing practices with the land.
On the back of each card is a grid system designed to allow me to note the batch, item no. dimensions, and material of the item. There is also space for me to leave a personal note and date.
Detail of the inscription, date, and signature on the shoulder of the storage jar illustrated in fig. 21.
"Dave, an enslaved African-American potter, made alkaline-glazed stoneware vessels in the nineteenth century in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. His ceramics, especially his large pots, are very expressive and powerful, but his contribution goes beyond the vessels themselves. He is also known for his literacy, at a time when slave literacy was not permitted. It is expressed in the dates, signatures, and poetry incised in script on many of his pots. Dave’s pottery, valued for its functionality when first produced, is now appreciated for its greater value as the historical record of a slave who became an American icon."
"Dave’s last known poem, dated May 3, 1862, is charged with political, religious, and social meaning, given the context of slavery and civil war: “I made this Jar all of cross / If you don’t repent, you will be lost.” The last known dated stoneware vessel inscribed “Dave” and “Lm” is dated March 31, 1864."
- Great & Noble Jar: Traditional Stoneware of South Carolina, By Cinda K. Baldwin (1993)
- Beneath his Magic Touch: The Dated Vessels of the African-American Slave Potter Dave by Arthur F. Goldberg and James Witkowski (2006)
Additionally, an example of the Pottersville investors leasing labor can be found in the 1839 business journal of Nathaniel Ramey & Company (Figure 10).
In this entry Ramey leased a man named Harry for “a day’s work at $37.” While the journal does not specify that Harry was a turner, the following year Ramey deeded his interest in the stoneware manufactory to Dr. Jasper Gibbs. Among the enslaved workers included in the manufactory were three turners: Harry, Abram, and (a boy) named Daniel. (Figure 11).
A fifteen-gallon alkaline-glazed storage jar that is incised “Harry” is illustrated in Figure 12 (image of pot is found on postcard above). This example, with its monumental size and incised signature akin to those made by David Drake, helped identify another enslaved potter who possibly worked in tandem, in a similar manner, and perhaps as a contemporary to Drake.
- Edgefield District Stoneware: The Potter’s Legacy by Corbett Toussaint (2021)
"Alexandria’s tradition of stoneware manufacture is one of the great American ceramics stories. The broad outlines of stoneware made in Alexandria, Virginia have been put forth by scholars and collectors in the last fifteen years, but much more remains to be addressed, especially the roles played by enslaved and free African American potters. The narrative of free African American potter David Jarbour is an important part of this story. From 1791 until 1847, the city of Alexandria was part of the District of Columbia. In the District of Columbia, enslaved African Americans could purchase their freedom and remain within the community, often working as skilled craftsmen. Jarbour purchased his freedom in 1820 and practiced his trade at the Wilkes Street Pottery in Alexandria."
Fig. 3: Detail of inscription (“1830 / Alexa / Maid By / D,, Jarbour”) on base of storage jar illustrated in Fig. 1. Photo by Wes Stewart.
"Exuberantly painted cobalt floral and foliage decoration envelops the jar (see Figs. 1 and 2). One side of the object exhibits a large stylized tulip blossom with three petals and a central stem. Leafy fern-like fronds extend up each side of the central stem at forty-five degree angles. The other side of the jar bears an equally large flower resembling a stylized chrysanthemum. Although the blossom is different from the tulip, the leaves and central stem are clearly painted by the same hand. Frond-like shoots are painted below the lug handles and each handle is daubed with cobalt at the outer junctures. The rim of the jar is encircled with cobalt and the cobalt decoration on the body has areas of thin running drips that extend down to the foot—the direction of these drips reveals that the jar was fired right-side-up. Hidden on the underside of the flat wire-trimmed base is the incised inscription written in well-executed script: “1830 / Alexa / Maid By / D,, Jarbour” (Figure 3)"
Fig. 17: Storage jar attributed to David Jarbour and retailed by Hugh Smith & Co., 1826–1831, Alexandria VA. Impressed “H.SMITH & Co.” Salt-glazed stoneware with cobalt decoration; HOA: 22”. Private collection. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.
- “…my friend David Jarboe…”: The Unfinished Portrait of an Alexandria Potter by Angelika R. Kuettner (2020)
"Another form of ceramic sculpture by Blacks in the vicinity of Edgefield was the figured bottle. One piece is attributed to the slave potter Jim Lee, who worked at the Roundtree and Bodie pottery in Ninety-Six, South Carolina. Made perhaps shortly before 1860, it has been called the "preacher burlesque"; it is possible that it was made to satirize Lee's owner, Baptist preacher Jesse Pitts Bodie"..."Most Black ceramic sculptors made face vessels; Jim Lee made the whole man. If the face vessels may be tied to Bakango antecedents, it is not too difficult to connect Lee's figure to the Bakuba. Both Bantu groups are from Zaire and are connected by the Congo River. The preacher bottle may thus be seen as related to but distinct from most Edgefield vessels because of its possible inspiration from the Kuba, whose artistic ideals are similar to but distinct from those of the Kongo. Moreover, Jim Lee was working on the fringes of the Edgefield tradition; the Roundtree and Bodie pottery, where he worked, was in Greenwood County, north of the Edgefield District. For this reason and for other possible cultural motives, his work represents a separate episode in the history of Afro-American pottery."
— The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts by John Michael Vlach, published 1990, pg. 90-91
Image from Bulletin of The Charleston Museum (October-November 1920) — Vol. 16, No. 6, 7 (starting at pg. 392 in PDF download)
- The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts by John Michael Vlach (1990)
- Bulletin of The Charleston Museum (October-November 1920) — Vol. 16, No. 6, 7
"In 1908 anthropologist Charles Montgomery interviewed seven of the Wanderer Africans living in the Edgefield County, Aiken County, and Augusta area: Tucker Henderson, Tom Johnson, Lucy Lanham, Ward Lee, Katie Noble, Romeo Thomas, and Uster Williams."
Figure 21: Photograph of Ward Lee, Edgefield County, South Carolina, ca. 1900. (Courtesy, Lee family.)
"Romeo Thomas was hired at the Palmetto Fire Brick Works on at least three separate occasions. Another member of the Wanderer group was Ward Lee (fig. 21), who it appears was connected with the Edgefield potteries as well. Oral tradition maintains that he was a potter, and a small white face jug that descended in his family relates very closely to sherds recovered at the Baynham site (fig. 22). Reputedly made by Lee, this jug establishes a direct connection between Edgefield face vessels and a slave from the Wanderer. The object is covered in a kaolin wash that appears to have been applied after firing. As Thompson and others have noted, white substances and materials like kaolin had profound meaning in Kongo culture, and African culture in general. Evidence of the latter can be observed in the African-American practice of decorating graves with white objects such as china, clocks, and porcelain chickens."
Figure 22 (Face jug featured in postcard above). Face jug attributed to Ward Lee, Edgefield District, South Carolina, ca. 1880. Unglazed stoneware. H. 5". (Courtesy, Georgia Archeological Institute.)
- African-American Face Vessels: History and Ritual in 19th-Century Edgefield, by Claudia Arzeno Mooney, April L. Hynes, and Mark M. Newell (2013)
"Much scholarship in recent years has shed light on enslaved potters working in the American South, most notably David Drake and other African Americans working in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. Aside from recent scholarship by Angelika Kuettner on the free Black potter David Jarbour, little attention has been given to the number of free people of color who worked as potters in a slave economy before the American Civil War. One such free Black potter was a man named Abraham Spencer who worked in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, probably alongside several of the Valley’s well-known white potters."
"Although few pieces of pottery survive that can be attributed to Abraham Spencer, numerous records document his life, the lives of his family, and the people with whom the Spencer family interacted. The goal of this article is to gather surviving documentation of Spencer’s life and career, illustrate the extant pottery that can be attributed to his hand, and provide context for his life and work. By doing so it is hoped that this research note will, firstly, broaden awareness and appreciation of Abraham Spencer’s accomplishments as a skilled free person of color in a slave economy and, secondly, inform further research about Black potters working in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the nineteenth century."
Fig. 7: Earthenware crock with manganese-glazed interior attributed to Abraham Spencer, 1860–1873, Strasburg, VA. Incised with an “A” on outside of body. Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, Acc. 2018-01-01.
"There are no known pieces of pottery fully signed or directly associated with Abraham Spencer. Several pieces exist with incised “A” marks on the sides, sometimes upside down. These marks were made prior to the initial kiln firing. See Figures 7 and 8 for an example. Another jar is similar in style and form to those made in the New Market, Virginia area in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century. Another surviving piece of pottery is stamped “SOLOMON BELL / STRASBURG” and incised with an “A” similar to the earthenware crock illustrated in Fig. 7. Comstock stated that the examples featuring an incised “A” as well as a stamp of the Bell pottery are “usually distinguishable from most products made by the Bells,” so it perhaps possible to separate the work made by Abraham Spencer while he worked at the Bell pottery after the Civil War."
- Research Note: Freedom in a Slave Economy: Abraham Spencer and Pottery Making in the Shenandoah Valley, by Brenda Hornsby Heindl (2020)
"This stoneware jar was made in Guadalupe County, Texas, by H. Wilson & Company, as shown by the impressed mark on the shoulder. The company was formed when a group of formerly enslaved potters, including Hi[y]rum (1836-1864), James (1847-1917), and several others bearing the surname Wilson, separated from the Guadalupe Pottery when John Wilson sold his remaining interest in the latter company in 1869. Hirum Wilson and the others learned the pottery craft while owned by John Wilson, who was a minister and a farmer. Upon emancipation, they took Wilson as their surnames. The shape of this stoneware jar and others produced at H. Wilson & Company suggests a strong connection to the Edgefield District of South Carolina where enslaved potters worked between 1820 and 1860. The Edgefield potters brought their skills when they moved to eastern and central Texas."
"In Edgefield, after the Civil War ended, many of the former slaves continued to work at the Lewis Miles Pottery at Miles Mill. Lewis Miles died in 1869, and his son John continued the business for at least another decade. Josh Miles, who was a black man, operated a pottery not far from Miles Mill with the assistance of six male and female laborers. One of those men was “Uncle” Jack Thurman, the mulatto son of Lewis Miles. The manner in which the handles were attached on a stoneware jar attributed to Jack Thurman shows similarities to the vessels made at the Wilson pottery (fig. 22). This could be attributed to changes in style and the idiosyncrasies of the individual potter. As the capacity of the jars decreased, so did the size of the handles. It is interesting to compare the output and value of the three potteries operating in the Shaw’s Creek area of Aiken County. John Miles, Ben Landrum, and Josh Miles were listed in the Industrial Census of 1879–80 fortheir stoneware factories. Josh Miles’ factory employed the fewest number of people (six) and paid the lowest wages ($100 average yearly wages for a skilled worker) yet the output was valued the highest among the three, at $6,000."
— Clay Connections: A Thousand-Mile Journey from South Carolina to Texas, by Jill Beute Koverman (2009)
- Clay Connections: A Thousand-Mile Journey from South Carolina to Texas, by Jill Beute Koverman (2009)
- The Acacia Collection’s Edgefield Face Vessel, Corbett E. Toussaint (2018)
- Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts, William R. Ferris (1983)
- Great & Noble Jar: Traditional Stoneware of South Carolina, Cinda K. Baldwin (1993)