McKissick Museum

of the University of South Carolina

Columbia, SC



Making Faces: Southern Face Vessels from 1840 to 1990


Beginning July 2, 2000 at the University of South Carolina's McKissick Museum, 65 of the finest examples of Southern face jugs, ranging from 5 inches to nearly 2 feet in height, will be on display. The exhibit, titled "Making Faces: Southern Face Vessels from 1840 to 1990," will feature other face vessels such as cups and an umbrella stand along with text panels that will illuminate the unusual and prolific Southern pottery tradition. (left: Charlie Lisk, Vale, NC, Swirlware Face Vessel c 1988, H: 15.5" W: 9.25" Collection of Pria Harmon)

The exhibit, which runs through Dec. 17, 2000, combines objects from McKissick's extensive folk-art holdings with ones from top private and museum collections.

Depicting a face or human figure on jugs and jars is neither new nor rare. For centuries, anthropomorphic pottery has been made in England, Germany, Peru, Japan, Africa, Egypt and Mexico. Their uses have ranged from ritualistic and funerary to honoring nobility. In the United States, face jugs and vessels were made in the North beginning around 1810. However, the southern United States has been the world's most prolific region for face vessels. (left: Lanier Meaders, White Co. Ga., Devil Jack-o-Lantern, c. 1971, H:8.5" W: 10:25" Private Collection)

With its birthplace in Edgefield, S.C., the Southern face-jug tradition, with its trademark alkaline-glaze, began in the 1840s and flourished. It quickly spread throughout the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama, resulting in the production of thousands of distinct face jugs of all sizes, shapes and designs.

The purpose of the earliest Southern jugs, aside from their utilitarian use of holding liquid, remains a mystery. No matter. Whether the pieces were intended as representations of actual people or not does not diminish the artistry and beautifully sculpted and often abstract features that bind Southern face jugs as a folk art or their popularity among collectors. (left: Thomas Chandler, Edgefield, SC, Face Vessel, 1940 - 1852, H: 11.5" W: 12.5" Collection of James B. Hunter)

As interesting as the faces on the jugs are the faces behind the jugs. Many of today's producers of face jugs are third- or, even, fourth-generation potters. Among several notable artisans from pottery families are Lanier Meaders of Georgia and Burlon Craig of North Carolina, who are largely responsible for the increased popularity of the jugs since the 1970s. In addition to his own family members, Meaders influenced others, including Chester Hewell, to continue the pottery traditions of their grandfathers. Burlon Craig had a similar impact in North Carolina, inspiring artists to take up the trade and pass it on to future generations.

Oral histories, record books, writings about the potters and their cultural backgrounds are the basis for the exhibit text panels, which help bring the faces of the jugs that surround them to life for the museum visitor. (left: George E. Ohr, Biloxi, MS, Face Vase, 1895 - 1900, H: 7.875" W: 6" Collection of Done E and Norma Cottingham)

As with all McKissick exhibits, "Making Faces" is free and open to the public.


"Making Faces" events for the public...

July 20: Artitude Adjustment. 6 - 8 p.m. Light hors d'oeuvres and cash bar with gallery lecture at 7 p.m. Free for museum members; $2 for non-members.

Oct. 21: Fall Folklife Festival. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Regional potters, including Stephen Ferrell and Billy Ray Hessey, will demonstrate how they make face vessels and other wares. Other traditional craftspeople and performers will demonstrate their folk traditions. Free for members, $3 for adults and $2 for children. USC Horseshoe.

Read more about the McKissick Museum in Resource Library Magazine

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/2/11

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