In 1834 a law was passed in South Carolina that prohibited enslaved people from reading or writing. The punishment for transgressors? Fifty lashes. That same year, Dave Drake, an enslaved potter at work in Edgefield County—near what is today Lake Strom Thurmond—inscribed his first poem on a large stoneware jug. In this episode of the podcast, Ethan Lasser, chair of the Arts of the Americas Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, tells Dave’s story and that of an 1857 storage jar that bears the epigrammatic lines: “I made this Jar for Cash-/ though its called lucre trash/ Dave.”
Ethan W. Lasser is the John Moors Cabot Chair of the Arts of the Americas Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. As a curator, scholar and teacher, Lasser is committed to putting forward new narratives of American art that question existing assumptions and propose new ways of thinking about the past. In his prior positions at the Harvard Art Museums and the Chipstone Foundation, Lasser curated exhibitions on collecting in early America, nineteenth century African American art (with Theaster Gates Jr.) and the journalistic eye of Winslow Homer. Lasser is a graduate of Williams College and received a PhD in art history from Yale University.