The 2012 Face Jug Symposium

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Fred Morton came to Columbia and shared with us a “Face Jug Cane” he crafted from a single piece of wood from Jekyll Island, the same shores, his Great- Great- Grandfather, Yango came aboard the Wanderer in 1858.  Fred shared that this cane was inspired in his memory along with Romeo and Cilucangy who also carved canes  in much the same fashion.

Last weekend I presented at a symposium called “Unmasking the Mysteries of Face Jugs” held at the Columbia Museum of Art. Here, researchers , academics and collectors met to exchange ideas and information along with a day full of various presenters.

It is known that anthropomorphic vessels are common in various cultures  – however, in 1858 a very distinct kind of face jug suddenly appeared in the Old Edgefield district of South Carolina. These jugs had distinctly African features and are attributed to enslaved potters who worked in the Col. Thomas J. Davies pottery as well as other local potteries. At the turn of the century Collectors began to acquire them today they bring a premium from $15,000 to $62,000.

The opinions of collectors and academics as to who made these face vessels and to what purpose they were put was equally at odds. Some collectors insist that Edgefield face jugs were made by white potters as whimsies, or ” to scare people away from the contents. Others believe that Thomas Chandler who made face jugs with very “European” features introduced the tradition to Edgefield, South Carolina.

My presentation focused on the evidence that Edgefield face jugs were made by slaves and free African Americans (and native born Africans) and they were used for ritual/religious purposes in keeping with the traditions brought from their land of origin – in most cases central West Africa. It also became clear from the various lectures that it is highly likely that the catalyst for the “sudden” resurgence of face vessel based ritual in Edgefield, was the importation of some two hundred Congolese Africans brought to American by the slave ship Wanderer.

Jane Przbysz at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum http://artsandsciences.sc.edu/mckissickmuseum/  deserves much credit for supporting and organizing the symposium alongside Jim Witkowski, and sponsors such as Chipstone, Jim & Susan Witkowski, Phillip and Debbie Wingard  & Wooten and Wooten Auctioneers.   Claudia Mooney’s exhibit, Face Jugs: African- American Art and Ritual in 19th-Century South Carolina
September 28 – December 16, 2012 is a striking collection of 23 of the face jugs “celebrating the aesthetic power of this potent art form and suggest new ways to consider their uses and, perhaps more importantly, their cultural meanings within a community of Americans who lived within challenging circumstances”  (Columbia Museum of Art (LINK: http://artsandsciences.sc.edu/mckissickmuseum/index.php?q=exhibitions/facejugs

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