Face jug

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A face jug is a jug pottery which depicts a face. Early examples date from the 14th century,.[1] Most famously known vessels come from the North, South Carolina and Georgia regions made by African-American slaves during the mid-1800s.Though the exact purpose of these vessels are unknown, many scholars believe them to be of either practical or spiritual value. Other names associated with African-American face jugs are grotesque jars, monkey jars, or face jars.[2] Modern interpretations started appearing in the same regions during the 1940s.[3]

The Coventry Herbert Art Gallery and Museum exhibits a rare medieval face jug unearthed beside the site of the local Benedictine priory.[1]

Early Forms


During the 13th century craftsmen outside of the London area began to become more decorative in their style, creating more anthropomorphic vessels that would characterize Medieval face jugs.[4] In the 1600s full body vessels supposedly modeled after Edward Vernon also known as Admiral Vernon. These pieces became to be known as British Toby Jars.[5]


African Nkisi dolls, native to the Congo, were considered both object and human. These dolls were made with many different materials including clay. They came to America transported through slave trade and are found more commonly in Latin American regions. These vessels are full figured pieces that are characterized by the samee exaggerated human features often seen on African- American face jugs. Many of the rituals associated with Nkisi dolls are often used too either aid or harm a person or living creature that the dolls plays a stand in role for, or they are often used as an extension of a spiritual leader or being that stores spiritual energy.[6]

Speculated Uses

Face jugs were well made fully functional pieces, fully equipped to serve the practical purpose of containing and pouring liquid. In accounts of various slave owners it is believed African-American slaves would used their face jugs as water jugs that they would into the fields with them.[7] Other scholars believe that face jugs were used as a form of self-identification, or a Self-Portrait and was possibly a way for slaves to deal with both their physical displacement and loss of visual worth.[8] It is common folklore belief that these jugs were not used for practical purposes, but for spiritual purposes. It is believed that these jugs were buried outside of front and back doors to scare spirits away. Also it is believed that these jugs were used as grave markers and placed on top of burial sites adorned with all possessions of the deceased.[7]

Artistic Value

Though considered to be Folk art by many African- American face jugs have become a prominent chapter in the history of African-American art as well as American art. Because the formal training of the ceramic skills behind face jugs was taught after America gained its independence it is considered some of the first truly American pieces.[9] Because of the interesting physical characteristics of these jugs and the historical context behind them, face jugs are considered an important piece in African-American art and really the beginning a theme of self-identification that will carry on into the future.[10] Some use these vessels as political symbols, most famously it is believed that Dave the Potter, a slave who worked in the Miles mill where most face jugs were made, was himself protesting against his status through ceramic pieces.


List of American makers of face jugs

American art potters who create face jugs include:

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Goulden, Barbara. THE HERBERT REVEALS ALL Coventry Telegraph 30 October 2008
  2. "Encyclopedia Smithsonian: American Face Vessels." Accessed 13 September 2014. http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmah/facevess.htm.
  3. Ketchum, William C. (2003). "JUGS, FACE". The Encyclopedia of American Folk Art. Cynthia Parzych Publishing, Inc.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Spencer, Brian. "Medieval Face-Jug (The London Museum)." The Burlington Magazine 111, no. 794 (1 May 1969): 303–302.
  5. N., J. G. "Old English Pottery." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 58, no. 335 (1 February 1931): 98.
  6. Young, Jason R. Rituals of Resistance: African Atlantic Religion in Kongo and the Lowcountry South in the Era of Slavery. LSU Press, 2011.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Watch Now: History Detectives | Face Jug. Accessed 10 September 2014. http://video.pbs.org//video/1918318256/.
  8. Hall, James. The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History. Thames & Hudson, 2014.
  9. Patton, Sharon F. African-American Art. Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1998.
  10. Dover, Cedric. American Negro Art. New York Graphic Society, 1967.
  11. "The Item - Google News Archive Search." Accessed 10 September 2014. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=CokiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=g60FAAAAIBAJ&pg=5101%2C2925679.
  12. http://www.claytonbailey.com/jugheads.htm

External links