In 2010, I was invited to appear on a face jug episode of PBS’s History Detectives and heard archeologist Dr. Mark Newell, also on the show, confirm that face jugs of clay were made by African people who worked in a pottery at Edgefield, South Carolina. He found evidence of a site off in the woods where slaves used their own kiln, probably a groundhog kiln where the work is partially buried, and fired their personal work. He said that a cargo of Africans from a ship named the Wanderer was sold into slavery illegally in 1858, after the trade was abolished making the importation of humans illegal, even though slavery was still legal. Thirty of these enslaved people were quickly sold as a group to the Edgefield area, with their religious practices, language, and family ties intact. Because of this they did not lose their culture so quickly and were able to support each other in this new and foreign situation. Some of these people were most likely the first face jug makers of African descent in this country, says Dr. Newell.
The first exhibition of slave-made face jugs, “Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina,” was curated by Claudia Mooney and toured four museums in 2012-2013. This exhibition was validation that enslaved people created this art form initially.
All of this serves as an inspiration to me. There are times when I sit at the wheel and I believe ideas come to me from the ancestors. I make my face jugs to honor my people who came to this country in bondage through the Middle Passage and not only survived but thrived. I sometimes make a jug to honor a person of color who has achieved greatness or endured tremendous discrimination, or worse. I pay homage to Civil Rights activists and Freedom Fighters whose job, it seems, will never be over. I pay homage to those of my race who taught and wrote and built and preached and orated and invented and created.
I continue to make face jugs to keep the story alive.