Face Jug Project

The face jug has a unique lineage in the history of ceramics, particularly in the southern United States.

With a connection that stretches back to Nkisi figures from the Congo and central Africa, the unique characteristics that have become common to ceramic face jugs are influenced by the slave trade in the 18th and 19th century.

Those potters, working as slaves in the Edgefield, South Carolina region, created a unique type of pottery that is still practiced today. Face jugs served many purposes, then as well as now, including a vessel to bring drinking water out into the fields, ceremonial burial markers, and spiritual objects.

For this project, we will explore the history of the face jug. Using that knowledge, we use coiling, pinching, and slab construction methods to create a new addition to the lineage of the face jug, one from your own unique background.

Face jug from the 1850s

Watch both of the following videos below and then make sketches for at least 3 face jugs that reference your own personal identity.

Examples of student work:

Here’s a video of Jim McDowell talking about his work making face jugs.

Face Jug Poetry Slam

On June 24, 2012, the Milwaukee Art Museum hosted a poetry slam in conjunction with the Chipstone exhibit “Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in Nineteenth-Century South Carolina.” Face vessels – typically jugs, and less commonly cups, pitchers, and jars – were produced by enslaved potters in the Edgefield district of South Carolina. These diminutive objects are in fact “conjure pots” that were used for casting spells. The origin of these designs may be linked to the 1858 arrival of several hundred enslaved African men, women, and children from the Kingdom of Kongo who were secretly brought to America aboard an illegal slave ship called the Wanderer. The practice of conjuring in the Edgefield region – presumably to cast spells on slave owners, among other things – was kept secret within African American communities. The local Milwaukee poets featured in this video perform their reactions to these startlingly potent symbols of resistance and cultural survival.