Ex Fabula recently joined the Chipstone Foundation at the Milwaukee Art Museum for a special storytelling workshop. First, Chipstone staff took attendees on a powerful and moving gallery tour of the nineteenth-century ceramics of David Drake and other artists of the African diaspora; then, participants brainstormed, structured, and shared complex personal, true stories of power, identity, ownership, resistance, and dissent.

"The Dave Project Gallery" painting of an older Black man with white hair and a beard in the foreground.

Dave Project exhibit labels include paintings by Milwaukee artist Mutope Johnson. Image courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.


The Dave Project exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum was curated by the Chipstone Foundation, whose mission is to promote and enhance appreciation and knowledge of American material culture. The Dave Project is located in the Constance and Dudley Godfrey American Art Wing of the Milwaukee Art Museum. According to the Chipstone Foundation website, The Dave Project gallery celebrates the stories and skills of important African American artisans. It includes work by Thomas Commeraw, Thomas Day, David Drake, Miligan Frazier, John Hemmings, John Sable, Rich Williams and others.

Kendra participates in the workshop; in the background are face jugs whose true purpose is often misunderstood.

At the workshop, we viewed beautiful ceramic pieces made by former slave David Drake (ca. 1800-1870s), also known as “Dave the Potter” or just “Dave”. Dave brought much uniqueness to his work with the vast size of the pots he created, but one important distinction is that he often signed his works and inscribed them with couplets at a time when most slaves were forbidden from literacy.

Peter works on a story.

The workshop ties into several other efforts in Milwaukee to share the contributions of African Americans and reveal histories and stories that are not told in history books. One element is the Rashid Johnson exhibit Hail We Now Sing Joy which opens June 23 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The Chicago native uses signature materials of white ceramic tile, red oak flooring, shea butter, black soap and wax to examine themes of race, history, yearning, and anxiety, while investigating the complex relationships between art, society, and personal identity. Another piece of the puzzle is 200 Nights of Freedom, a citywide marking of the fiftieth anniversary of the ‘March on Milwaukee’, August 1967-April 1968 Fair Housing Marches.

poster for Rashid Johnson, Hail We Now Sing Joy, June 23 - Sept 17, Milwaukee Art Museum. Features a work of art: a giant metal grid/cube full of lush plants, cocoa butter and books. On September 7, Ex Fabula will draw inspiration from The Dave ProjectHail We Now Sing Joy and 200 Nights of Freedom, bringing the personal, political and creative together at the Milwaukee Art Museum. This curated event will feature 15-minute artwork talks from 5–6 p.m. followed by a program of curated true, personal stories told by community members. There will also be opportunities to share your own stories and reflections via UltraShorts, so please join us! Thanks to cosponsor the Chipstone Foundation for making this event possible!