|Exhibition at Milwaukee Art Museum returns a voice to objects that have long stood silent|
MILWAUKEE, WIS.- For the first time in nearly thirty years, Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th-Century South Carolina brings together a comprehensive collection of early Edgefield face vessels from leading institutions and collectors.
On view at the Milwaukee Art Museum from April 26 through August 5, 2012, the exhibition examines the face jug as a wondrous, albeit complex, object.
In the mid-nineteenth century, slaves in the Edgefield District of South Carolina began creating vessels with applied faces, a form now known as the face jug. The small vessel is turned stoneware with facial features—wide eyes and bared teeth—made of kaolin, a locally sourced clay. By the end of the century, African Americans were no longer producing face jugs. White potters appropriated the design, stopped using kaolin, and created similar objects mostly as whimsies. The vessels grew in popularity but had lost the symbolic power of their original form. Unfortunately, as time passed, the story mysteriously disappeared as well.
“The exhibition celebrates the aesthetic power of these potent art forms,” says Claudia Mooney, curator for the Chipstone Foundation. “It explores the different lenses through which to consider the vessels and their uses and, perhaps more important, their cultural meanings within a community of Americans that lived within the most challenging of circumstances.”
In light of new research, Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th-Century South Carolina present the vessels within a context that takes into account the realities of slavery in the Southern United States, exploring their use as coded objects carrying hidden meanings.
“Few early American artifacts are as visually powerful and thematically complex as the diminutive stoneware face vessels made in South Carolina during and right after the Civil War,” says Jon Prown, director for the Chipstone Foundation. “Woven into their fabric are stories of cultural movement, human survival, spiritualism, and technological prowess that resonate as much today as they did 150 years ago.”
The exhibition is curated by Claudia Mooney, assistant curator at the Chipstone Foundation.