The dark green alkaline glaze on this face jug has pooled around the applied appendages making a black-looking glaze in areas. Alkaline glaze is a mix of clay and ash or lime that acted as a flux. The jug has a pulled handle. The front side of the jug was flattened where the facial features were applied. The ears, eye openings, mouth, and nose were applied with additional clay and modeled to make the various appendages. The teeth and eyes are unglazed and made of a white clay. As with this jar, on the earlier forms the eyes and teeth were made from white kaolin clay, and were often left unglazed, creating a distinct color difference between the browns and greens of the alkaline glaze and the bright white of the kaolin clay.
MAKER: Among the most recognizable of Southern pottery forms is the Edgefield face vessel. Beginning in the 1850s, these alkaline-glazed stoneware objects were reportedly made by African American potters who worked in the Edgefield District’s vast network of potteries. In contrast to the standard production items of the time—utilitarian jars, jugs, and churns—face vessels are relatively scarce. More than a hundred small face jugs have been recorded, but only ten face cups, an example of which is included here, are known. The history of the production and use of these objects is still shrouded in mystery and controversy. They were finely turned on the potter’s wheel and their facial features were hand sculpted and applied. Ceramic scholars have put forth several working theories as to their original purpose. Perhaps the most widely accepted is that these vessels are remnants of African religious or spiritual rituals for the practice of conjuring. Of particular significance is the use of kaolin for the eyes and teeth. This fine white clay is celebrated in many African cultures for its magical qualities.
In the late nineteenth century, the face jug became a whimsical addition for many Southern white potters working in Georgia and North and South Carolina, and no longer retained its original meaning.
Mooney, Claudia A., April L. Hynes, and Mark M. Newell. “African-American Face Vessels: History and Ritual in 19th-Century Edgefield.” CERAMICS IN AMERICA (2013) 2-37.