Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Face Jugs/Ugly Jugs

I started Spring cleaning early this year...I'm almost done! Things are going to start getting really busy for me so I need my house to be clean and organized. I just ordered some new jewelry making supplies. I'll have some cool stuff to show you soon! But what's really exciting is that I'll be taking a Pottery class! I start the first week of April...I can't wait. I've been wanting to do this for soooo long. I have a bit of experience, but it was a long time ago. Maybe it'll be like riding a bike. I'm already overflowing with ideas, but my main objective is to make face jugs. Face jugs have a really interesting history. They were first made by Slave Potters and others in the early 1800's. They were made to mark the graves of dead loved ones because slaves weren't allowed to have tombstones. They are also referred to Ugly Jugs and are said to have held moonshine. The ugly faces would scare off children from getting into the liquor stash.

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This one is made by my favorite face jug artist Heather Gwinn.

But the fact of the matter is that these face jugs weren't just turning up only in the South. Jim McDowell believes himself to be the only black potter who creates face jugs from far reaching ancestral traditions as well as from his own family lineage. He explains "Slaves were not allowed to have tombstones, they said, so face jugs served as their gravemarkers. My great-great-great-great Aunt Evangeline was a village slave potter in Jamaica. She made face jugs, too. The story handed down from Evangeline was that slaves placed personal items on their loved ones' graves along with face jugs. The ugly face on the jug evolved something like this: Slaves from Africa revered their ancestors and participated in ancestor honoring, or what we might call ancestor worship. African slaves were taken to the Caribbean to be acclimated and there they picked up the religion of voodoo. Eventually ancestor worship, voodoo, and Christianity amalgamated into the tradition of the face jug. Many slaves who came to this country converted to Christianity and acquired a belief in the devil. They combined all their beliefs and came up with the ugly face jug. Apparently it had to be ugly enough to scare the devil away from your grave so your soul could go to heaven."

Jim Dowell's story about his Jamaican Aunt is probably true. But he got the rest really mixed up. Voodoo actually originated in Africa not the Caribbean. It was brought to the Caribbean during the African Diaspora via slave ships to the Caribbean and the Americas. West African Vodun originates from the African Kingdom of Dohomey now called the Republic of Benin. It is the national religion to this day. The people indigenous to this area are the Fon Tribe, they originated in Togo and spread throughout Benin and Southwest Nigeria. A large population of Fon peoples were taken to Haiti, so Vodun morphed into Haitian Vodou. Haitian Vodou is a syncrenistic religion combining Vodun and Christianity as well as both the Fon and French language. Finally a large population of Haitian slaves were brought to New Orleans...this is why we have Voodoo. Voodoo spread throughout the South so now we have the even more obscured version of this...African American Folk Magick known as Hoodoo. An integral part of all these belief systems is Honoring the Ancestors. Vodun...Vodou...Voodoo...Hoodoo.

This mischievious imp I picked up a street fair!

Spirit Vessels in Haitian Vodou are called Pot Tet (Head Pot) These vessels are made to house the Soul or Gwo Bananj of the Initiate during ceremonial trance possession. It is usually a white clay vessel drapped with scarves and beads. The vessel is kept by the Houngan (Preist) in the Temple. It is kept even after death because it houses the Spiritual essence of the deceased ancestor. This practice is an integral part of Hatian Vodou. Spirit vessels are found amongst the Yoruba and Fon too but not to house the Spirits of the dead. They house the Spiritual essence of the Orisha and the Lwa (Celestial Spirits/Dieties). You have to remember the Fon weren't the only Africans in Haiti. This practice was more likely introduced by the Bantu of Central and South Africa. The Bantu religion is called known as Nganga Kiyangala. This religion spread throughout the Carribbean and is also known as Las Reglas de Congo, Palo Mayombe, Palo Monte, Kimbisa or Santo Cristo Buen Viaje...more commonly referred to as simply, Palo. The Spirit Vessel is called a Nganga....a large iron cauldron filled with magickal herbs and items. The Nganga is called the Prenda in Spanish. Again these vessels house the Spiritual essence of the Ancestors.

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Random Genius said...

Sweet jug.

Christie said...

I really enjoyed your story, I've seen face jugs before but didn't know the background. Thanks!

Christine said...

One of my favorite classes in college was my "Magic , Science and Religion" Class. I still have one of my Vodoo (Vodun) "cookbooks" around at least thats what our teacher referred to it as. I especially like the blue jug and the stories behind them

Heathereeee said...

I'm not sure if this will ever get to you but I just wanted to tell you that someone 'googled' my name and because of that, I saw your blog---

It seemed the planets had aligned and my evening was destined to be crappy---

Instead, reading your remark about my face jugs made it truly lovely...

*Sending you as big a smile as you've just given me*


Heather Gwinn

Lady Lavona said...

Heather Gwinn was here! If you're reading this Heather, I LOVE your work! I own one piece that you made and it is one of my most cherished possessions! You and the late Beatrice Wood inspired my to take up pottery again. Thanks for the inspiration! xo Lavona

Heathereeee said...

Dear Lavona,

I am flattered beyond words---I can't tell you how much I enjoy hearing things like that.

It drives me and motivates me to know someone (anyone) holds my face jugs and appreciates the 'me' I've spilled into them.

I'd love to see the face jug you own of mine sometime--- I might have some unfinished photos of it I could send you...

I tend to photograph most of what I make so I can still see it whenever I feel the need...


Heather Gwinn

Lady Lavona said...

I'll snap a couple photos of it A.S.A.P He's a black coffee color, has a big mischievous smile, pointy nose and ears...and big almond shaped eyes. The jug is quite round and tapers up to a skinny stem with a cork in it. He looks like a goblin!

Heathereeee said...

Now I want to see it even more because I can't place it in my head... What does it have on the bottom of the jug?

I must be sounding terribly nosey, asking all these questions...Sorry!

Heather Gwinn

Lady Lavona said...

O.K. I'm an idiot! Sorry, The bottom of my jug is signed "Labarga" That's Karen Labarga. I guess I was thinking it was one of yours because of the eyes. You sometimes make those big bright almond shaped eyes.'re still my favorite! I constantly search you name on ebay...because of all the jugs I've seen yours are the coolest.

What is the connection with you and Sandy Cole?

Heathereeee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heathereeee said...

Well now...We'll have to figure out a way for you to get one of mine

I'm glad I'm still your favorite! If I wasn't, I might have to arm wrestle Karen for the honor!

Sandy is my mom actually...
Have you ever vacationed in North Carolina and/or been to her shop?


Lady Lavona said...

No I've never been to NC...I would love to see her shop! I thought she was your Mom, but I couldn't remember where I read that though. Art runs in my family too. My mom and I are taking this pottery class together actually. She has a Master's Degree in Printmaking...and teaches College classes, Etching, Lithography, ect.

I would love to own one of your jugs...I especially love your devils. And I hope you get a website up someday soon!

Heathereeee said...

Sorry for the delayed response---Lots and lots going on over here! (But I'm sure you know how busy things can get)

I'm actually thinking of starting an Etsy shop... A fellow potter sent me the link and it seems like a easy risk...

I noticed you deal on Etsy...Has it been good to you so far?

Hope your week has kicked off well :-)

Lady Lavona said...

Etsy is awesome!!! So far so good...I'm sure I'll do better once I actually get my store stocked up!

But I highly recommend Etsy! Let me know when you set up shop! Good Luck! xo Lavona

Heathereeee said...

Hello Lavona :-)

Rob posted a few new listings on ebay--Thought you might want to take a peek (if you haven't already)--- I made one with a face inside a mouth---It's pretty odd...

I haven't done the Etsy thing just yet because I don't have enough inventory... But I'm going to try to soon!

Have a lovely weekend :-)


Heather Gwinn

Heathereeee said...

Hi Lavona!

I finally got my store up and running on

I only listed one thing so far today but it's a devil face jug, so I thought you might want to see since you said you like them...

If the link doesn't work, you could also check under Heather Gwinn or Yankee Cole Pottery...

Or is it 'YankeeColePottery'?

I wonder why they don't allow spaces in between each word?

Anyway, how are your pottery classes going so far???

Talk to you later!


Heather Gwinn