National tour of South Carolina face jugs comes to Columbia
The Columbia Museum of Art and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina have collaborated to bring to South Carolina an exhibit focused on 19th-century face jugs. “Face Jugs: African-American Art and Ritual in 19th-Century South Carolina” is the first exhibition in nearly 30 years to bring together a collection of this African-American pottery. Objects in the show come from private and public collections, including McKissick Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, among others.
The Columbia Museum of Art is the only South Carolina venue on the national tour for the exhibition, which has been jointly organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Chipstone Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting American decorative arts scholarship.
The exhibition is a masterworks show celebrating the aesthetic power of these objects and suggesting new ways to consider their uses and cultural meanings. African-American potters produced the ceramic face jugs in the Edgefield District (present-day Aiken County) in the mid-19th century. These expressive faces featuring bulging eyes and bared teeth seem mysterious to modern-day viewers. Although anthropomorphic ceramic vessels have been made for centuries in almost every part of the world, those made in Edgefield are unique. Why do they look the way they do? What did they mean in their own time? How were they used? These questions and more are explored in the exhibition.
The exhibition runs through Dec. 16 at the Columbia Museum of Art. A daylong symposium, “Unmasking the Mysteries of Face Jugs,” takes place Dec. 8. Visit McKissick Museum’s website to register for the symposium.