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The Dave Project

Poetic Prose Embodies Dave the Potter

Nov. 15, 2010
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As a climax to the Milwaukee Art Museum's spring 2010 installation entitled "To Speculate Darkly" by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, "The Dave Project" brings forth five interactive workshops to Milwaukee residents with an astounding performance by Chicago-based poet Orron Kenyetta. By embarking on a series of community-involved workshops, the Chipstone Foundation poses the question, "If you had less than a dozen words to make your mark, what would you say?" On October 24, the first of five "Dave reductions" took place at the Lynden Sculpture Garden and will proceed throughout November at several Milwaukee locations.

The outstanding premise behind these workshops encourages each individual to take the essence of Dave the potter, a slave from a South Carolina pottery plantation in the 1850s, a step further. During a time when it was illegal for slaves to read and write, Dave inscribed couplets of 20 words or less on the pots he shaped, creating a permanent portal into the past through these historic vessels. But why did he do it? What was he trying to convey?

Ethan Lasser, a curator at the Chipstone Foundation, along with Kenyetta and other Dave enthusiasts, led a two-hour discussion followed by a hands-on workshop, in which each person was given a clay tile to inscribe their own couplet—ultimately taking the notion of permanence and the power of literacy and expression, to new heightened levels. Issues of race and labor present in the couplets, like Gates explored in the spring exhibition, are interpreted under each individual participant's magnify glass throughout this workshop.

After Lasser laid down the groundwork, Kenyetta set the stage with his excellent and provocative poem, "Dave in the Glaze." Then each line from one of Dave's 40 or so couplets on wood-fire, stoneware pots was broken down and analyzed by participants.

Through this collaborative effort, two objectives transpire. The first makes the story of Dave and his pots known to as many people in this city as possible. Secondly, it uses an old object to confront some of the challenges in our city today, like the separation of racial groups in Milwaukee.

"We aren't solving any problems obviously, but we are trying to engage with one, and trying to involve different pockets of Milwaukee in the Dave exercise," said Lasser.

If you are interested in participating in these free workshops, you may attend any one of the following dates: Tuesday, November 16, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Alma Center (2568 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.) and Wednesday, November 17, 7-9 p.m. at the Green Gallery West (631 E. Center St.). Each workshop is filmed and will be posted online for viewing.


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