Dave The Potter's Works Sell For Millions Yet His Descendants Say They Haven't Been Paid At All
Arts and Culture

Dave The Potter’s Works Sell For Millions Yet His Descendants Say They Haven’t Been Paid At All

Screenshot YouTube The Boston Globe

David Drake, a celebrated potter whose work dates back to the 1800s, is at the center of a story that is all too familiar for many descendants of enslaved people.

Commonly known as Dave The Potter, Drake’s work is revered by collectors for its quality and the many etchings he risked his life to engrave into them. Some works simply feature his signature, while others have short poems that provide insights into his journey. According to The Washington Post, Drake may have created over 40,000 pieces throughout his life, most of which he was not paid for. Today, his work sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars and in 2021, one of his inscribed pieces sold for $1.5 million.

So, who is profiting from his labor?

That is the question being asked by the Whitners, a family contacted in 2016 by a genealogist who revealed that they were descendants of David Drake. “It really saddened me,” Daisy Whitner, one of the family members, said to The Washington Post. “I wondered how much blood and sweat he put into making these pieces. He had to shed tears as he was wondering where his relations were, who had been torn away from him.” It was also sobering for them to find out that his works had been commissioned during slavery, making it commonplace for him to go unpaid for his talents.

“We had no idea,” said Whitner’s brother, John N. Williams. “We knew about slavery because we read it in the history books. But to know your ancestor was a part of that opened a flood of emotions. One was a joy that you know who they are and the other was sorrow for what they went through.”

The Whitner family does not own a single piece of their ancestor’s work and is looking for answers on how to change that. “Why do some feel African Americans do not deserve restitution?” Whitner’s sister, Pauline Baker, asked. “We basically built this economy as enslaved people.” The family hopes to own a portion of Drake’s legacy in the future and use the profits to fund a scholarship in his honor.