4. The Human Image: Face Jugs and Other People Pots

From: Global Clay

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99 4 | the human image Face Jugs and Other People Pots And has not such a Story from of Old Down Man’s successive generations roll’d Of such a clod of saturated Earth Cast by the Maker into Human mold? The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám1 Face jugs are perhaps the most intriguing objects made by southern folk potters, capturing the imagination of collectors, museum curators , researchers, and potters alike. Where did they come from, and what have they meant to their makers and owners, both in the past and present? The story as I understand it should make it clear that the answers are anything but simple. While these sculpted humanoid vessels are often referred to as face jugs, a better name for them is “people pots,” since some are full-body figural jugs such as one made about 1890 by William Grindstaff of Tennessee (fig. 4.1), or are other vessel forms besides jugs (e.g., jars, pitchers, cups). Antebellum examples from the South survive, but information about them is so scant that later theories about origin and meaning are at best educated guesswork. Some of the oldest southern people pots were made in 1862–1865 by enslaved African-American potters in Edgefield District, South Carolina (fig. 4.2). Created in a white-owned shop using the European technology of the potter’s wheel and kiln and the European jug form, they’re coated with woodash- or lime-based alkaline glazes that are probably Asian in inspiration (see Chapter 3). Yet the tendency has been to posit African roots for these South Carolina face vessels, as did ceramics historian Edwin AtLee Barber, the first to write about them in the early 1900s. Many can be attributed to slave potters working at the Palmetto Fire Brick Works, founded in 1862 at Bath in Aiken County, based on Barber’s communication with the shop’s former owner, Thomas Davies. As Barber put it, Figure 4.1, below. Stoneware figural jug, salt glaze over dark slip, by William Grindstaff, Knox County, Tennessee, ca. 1890. The belly is stamped “w grinstaff / s:kont.ty”; the four curved stamps on the chest read “knoxville tenn.” Private collection; photograph: author. Figure 4.2, facing top. Stoneware face jugs by enslaved African-American potters at Thomas Davies’ Palmetto Fire Brick Works, Bath, Edgefield District, South Carolina, 1862–1865. The alkaline glaze on some was darkened by adding pulverized ironbearing “paint rock” (limonite). Private collection; photograph: author. Figure 4.3, facing bottom. “An Aesthetic Darkey,” stereoscope photograph by James A. Palmer, Aiken, Edgefield District, South Carolina, 1882. The face field jug probably had been slave-made locally. Courtesy of J. Garrison and Diana Stradling. Figure 4.4, below. Face field jug, stoneware with paint rock-darkened alkaline glaze, Edgefield District, South Carolina, probably slave-made in early 1860s. Collection of Augusta-Richmond County Museum, Augusta, Georgia, www.augustamuseum.org. Photograph: author. Figure 4.5, facing. Terracotta “portrait” jug, Mangbetu people, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa, early 1900s. Such jugs feature elite Mangbetu women with their distinctive hair styles. Photograph © Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, carlos.emory,edu; photographer: Bruce M. White, 2006. Figure 4.6. Stoneware face jug, slave-made at Thomas Davies’ Palmetto Fire Brick Works, Bath, South Carolina, 1862–1865. On examples such as this, wax-resist kept the alkaline glaze from the inset kaolin eyes and teeth, creating greater contrast and accentuating the menacing expression. Courtesy of Wooten & Wooten, Camden, South Carolina. The Human Image | 105 “These curious objects . . . possess considerable interest as representing an art of the Southern negroes . . . and we can readily believe that the modeling reveals a trace of aboriginal art as formerly practiced by the ancestors of the makers in the Dark Continent.”2 Face jugs are further associated with the black population as early as early as 1882 on stereoscope cards titled “An Aesthetic Darkey” (fig. 4.3). Taken by photographer James A. Palmer of Aiken, South Carolina in his series on Aiken and vicinity (in Edgefield District), the pose was inspired by an engraving of W. H. Beard’s painting “The Aesthetic Monkey” that appeared in Harper’s Weekly of January 28, 1882.3 Racist appeal aside, the vessel in the photo, with its stirrup handle and angled, off-center spouts—most likely slave-made locally—is known in the South as a “monkey jug,” a type of field jug named from an Afro-Caribbean term for thirst.4...


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