Arts Society & Culture

Georgia Museum of Art to show 19th-century African-American face jugs

GMOA Face Jug 1
This historical face jug will be on display during the exhibition "Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th-Century South Carolina

Athens, Ga. – The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia will present the exhibition “Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th-Century South Carolina” May 4 to July 7.

This exhibition draws from the collections of face vessels from the Edgefield District of South Carolina and is organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum and by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation in Milwaukee, Wis. committed to fostering education and continual research in the decorative arts.

“Face Jugs” presents these vessels as a celebration of their formative and aesthetic power in conjunction with discussions of their cultural meanings to the African Americans in Edgefield. Claudia Mooney, assistant curator at the Chipstone Foundation, served as curator for the exhibition.

The face jug form originated in the pottery created by enslaved African Americans during the second half of the 19th century in Edgefield, S.C. Made of turned stoneware, the jugs have facial features crafted from kaolin, a locally sourced clay and a material considered sacred in West Africa. Art historians originally viewed these vessels as mere utilitarian water storage jugs. Others later proposed the jugs served a ritualistic purpose as storage for what were thought to be magical materials. More recent research indicates that they had multiple uses and were most likely misunderstood by outsiders. White potters appropriated the design, discontinued the use of kaolin and made their face jugs more whimsical, resulting in a loss of the symbolic power intrinsic to the original form.

“The persistence of African culture in the work of enslaved craftsmen is a strong statement of resistance and on human dignity,” said Dale Couch, GMOA’s curator of decorative arts and the in-house curator of the exhibition. “This is the most African of art in North America, but with that being said, it still is hybridized with other cultural prototypes, particularly European, which creates a complex array of meanings.”

The exhibition is sponsored by the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art.

Events connected with the exhibition include:
The Alfred Heber Holbrook lecture, featuring a presentation by Adrienne Childs entitled “Ornamental Blackness: The Black Body in Western Decorative Arts,” April 4 at 6 p.m.;
Teen Studio, a workshop on face jugs for teens led by local artist Hope, May 2 from 5:30-8:30 p.m.;
Family Day: Funky Face Jugs, May 11 from 10 a.m.-noon; and
The Wanderer Symposium, an all-day event that focuses on the slaves who landed on Jekyll Island in the ship the Wanderer and their descendants, Friday, May 17, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Childs lecture and Family Day are sponsored by the Georgia Humanities Council.

Museum Information
Partial support for the exhibition and programs at the Georgia Museum of Art is provided by the Georgia Council for the Arts through appropriations of the Georgia General Assembly. The council is a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Individuals, foundations and corporations provide additional museum support through their gifts to the University of Georgia Foundation. The Georgia Museum of Art is located in the Performing and Visual Art Complex on the East Campus of the University of Georgia. The address is 90 Carlton St., University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. 30602-6719. For more information, including hours, see http://www.georgiamuseum.org or call 706/542-GMOA (4662).