Although they originated in the ancient world, face jugs – vessels decorated with not-so-pretty faces-have a long history in America. Theories abound, but oral histories have led scholars to believe that enslaved Americans first created the jars as grave markers – the ugly faces were supposed to scare away the devil so the departed could rise to heaven.
South Carolina had a particularly strong face jug tradition, thanks in part to Edgefield’s abundance of durable kaolin clay and Dr. Abner Landrum, who perfected a lead-free glazing technique.
The 1920s saw a resurgence in face jugs. Renamed “ugly jugs,” they were used scare children away from the unsuitable contents stored inside.
Today, potters and ceramic artists all over the country have discovered face jugs. One in particular, Peter Lenzo, will be showing his vessels at If ART beginning Friday, June 5.
Lenzo’s creations are unique in a number of ways. They utilize ceramic found objects like tea strainers and tiny ceramic hands, legs, tea pots and animals. They were created with his son, Joe Scotchie-Lenzo, when Scotchie-Lenzo was just four. According to Lenzo’s blog, when Scotchie-Lenzo couldn’t find what he was looking for to add to the jug, he’d make it and Lenzo would fire it in the kiln. The result is a series of vessels erupting with emotion and energy.
On Friday, June 5, Origins 2000-2002, an exhibition of the collaborative face jugs, will open at If ART. The opening reception begins at 6pm; the show runs through June 27. For more information, visit IFartgallery.blogspot.com
Katie McElveen, Special to The State