Falling For Face Jugs by Ann Bennett

Today I have two guest posts by two wonderfully interesting people who enjoy pottery, Ann Bennett and Walker Thornton. Both are members with me in the Blogathon 2013.
This guest post is written by Ann Bennett.

I was not a quick convert to pottery. I knew some pottery had value.  The extent of my interest was my expanding collection of dishes. You go to a yard sale; someone is selling 100 pieces of fine china for $65. You offer them $40 and they take it. Working full-time and being a caregiver for family members, I really did not think too much about many things. I was so distracted.

I remember the moment I became a pottery fan. It was the spirit jug in the Harriet Tubman museum.  The spirit jug was part of African American history but being a native Southerner, I know how our histories are entwined.   I went back to the museum to study the jug again.

Face jugs are meant to be ugly. If I had money, room and a museum to leave my collection, I would buy and buy and buy. I own about eight face jugs and numerous other pieces. Crawford County, Georgia is the home of the Merritt family and hosts two pottery shows a year. I spend hours looking at the different work of different potters.

Jugfest has antique pottery dealers.  One year I saw a small one that I just loved. Thinking it was small, it might be affordable. I discovered my champagne taste on a beer budget was alive and well. It was a collectible Meadow’s face jug offered at $2700. With great care, I placed it back on the shelf. I settled on a facejug done by Amerson for $120.  I like the sleek lines to his work.

Jugfest happens during May. In the fall, the pottery show is inside versus the outside carnival in the spring. Jugfest has mule pulled wagon rides, food, music, car show, historical tours and lots of fun in addition to the pottery. The fall show is more about the pottery.

I purchased a face jug done by Paul West who is father to Shelby West. Ignorance can be bliss. I offered him less than the price quoted on the jug. I did not realize he had discounted the prices for the locals like me. He asked me what I planned to do with the jug. I said the truth, put it on the shelves in my bedroom to look at. He took my offer.

From research, the face jugs were used as tombstones to scare away evil spirits and possibly send the dead on their way in the next world. They were used to store items that were harmful. Today, they are whimsical items with distorted faces that attract your interest. Each potter has his own style.

The spirit jug at Tubman was embedded with items to commemorate the person who had passed. This was before photography. The United States was unique in that it encouraged people to learn to read the Bible. Essentially, the ability to read was not that common in the 1600 and 1700s or 1800s. In Europe, the peasantry was discouraged from learning to read because it made them more difficult to manage. I imagine a spirit jug was a comfort to the loss of a loved one.

What I love most about pottery is that connection with the people who came before me. It is nice to think you are descended from royalty or some sort of grandeur. When I consider the lives of my grandparents and great-grandparents, I am humbled by their ingenuity and perseverance to make a life for themselves and their families. Their accomplishments are nonetheless as brilliant. When I look at a clay pot, I feel that connection to where my ancestors have been.

Ann Bennett is a science educator, naturalist, storyteller, and writer. You can find her at her creative blog “So Much To Choose From” which is where Ann stirs the pot with a mix of thoughts, experiences, flash fiction and poetry. Ann also has a “Science Ladybug” blog where she keeps science fun.