It’s all in the clay: Chipstone’s new “making” video

A screenshot from Dan Ollman’s video of Steve Ferrell, which can be viewed in Chipstone’s round video room on the Museum's Lower Level
A screenshot from Dan Ollman’s video of Steve Ferrell, which can be viewed in Chipstone’s round video room on the Museum's Lower Level

I have previously blogged about the Dave Project, which centered around a Dave Drake pot, and about Chipstone’s round video room at the Milwaukee Art Museum. When we were first planning the Dave Project we had envisioned having a reproduction of Dave’s pot made to tour around with us. We asked Steve Ferrell, a talented potter and Dave enthusiast in Edgefield, South Carolina (the town where Dave Drake was from) to complete the ambitious task. Steve had not only seen Dave pots, but owns Dave pot fragments, and uses clay from the same source as Dave did in his work. While speaking with Dan Ollman, the Milwaukee artist and filmmaker who filmed the Dave Project, we decided that a video of Steve making both the Dave pot reproduction and a South Carolina face jug, would be a good addition to our round room videos on the Milwaukee Art Museum Lower Level.


In this Q & A session Dan and I discuss his experiences spending time in Edgefield, and watching as well as filming Steve making the pot.

Claudia Mooney: What did you find interesting about Dave’s story and Steve Ferrell’s connection to Dave?

Dan Ollman: Steve has been collecting and researching Dave for years. He’s extremely knowledgeable about Dave and Edgefield, and he’s extremely passionate about his work and collecting, and collecting more information about what he’s collecting. He’s a treasure trove of information. Everything he knew, he could reference with an artifact that he had laying around his shop, which is really a museum that anyone could visit when in Edgefield.

CM: What was it like to film him/watch him make a pot?

DO: It was hypnotizing to watch Steve work.
He’s been doing this work for years…it’s become so natural for him.
As the potter’s wheel seemingly spins by itself, the clay just pours from his hands and forms into whatever image was projected into his head.

I could watch him work for hours. It’s like meditating.

CM: What was he making?

DO: He was making a replica of a Dave pot/Dave vessel. When finished, he inscribed the pot with a couple of Dave poems and then glazed it similarly to how Dave would have done his own glazing. In the end, I thought the pot looked almost exactly like a pot Dave could have made himself. (Others who ventured into the shop had said the same thing.) So I asked Steve if he would ever replicate Dave’s work and put it out in the world as an original Dave. At that point, he became really serious and started talking about “the brotherhood of clay” and how it would be the most disrespectful thing one could do against such an important artist like Dave. I thought that was both beautiful and inspiring.

CM: What was Edgefield like? What struck you the most about Steve’s tour?

DO: Edgefield was an extremely small Southern town with a main square, several gas stations, fried green tomatoes… but filled with the nicest people you could ever meet. Each person had a story to tell, which consciously or subconsciously, revealed the history of Edgefield, the South, and Dave, which everyone seemed to know something about. Steve especially was able to paint an incredible picture of what Edgefield was like during Dave’s time there. So much, that when we drove through the streets, you could truly see what Dave saw.

What struck me the most was the amount of people that are still digging for Dave pieces. What was once the plantation that Dave worked on is now several plots of land…either with houses, private property, forests, a gun club, etc. But wherever there’s rumored to be “pottery”, there’s always signs of people digging. In fact, when Steve and I went to one site, we came across a car full of beer/hunters, who asked us if it was okay for them to look around too. As we weren’t “technically” allowed to be there ourselves, we had no problem saying it was okay.

CM: Do you have any interesting stories from your visit?

DO: The drunk hunters, hunting for Dave, was probably the highlight.

CM: How did you decide what to show on the films?

DO: For the films, I showed what worked in context to what needed to be shown. There’s hours of other great footage that will be edited together for a feature film.

Claudia Mooney works for Chipstone, the Milwaukee-based foundation dedicated to promoting American decorative arts scholarship. She researches objects and creates relevant programming for Chipstone’s exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum and in the community.

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