A Short History of Face Jugs

Potter Ben Watford

Ben Alden Watford, 50 years a potter will be presenting 100 Face Jugs at The Crystal Lady Gallery & Stained Glass Studio, 217 Middle St. Art Opening is March 13, 2020.

Ben will be present and discussing the History of the African Face Jug and how this tradition came to America.

Potter & Designer, Ben Alden Watford of New Bern, North Carolina, creates African Face Jugs, originating in the Carolinas in the early 1800s. Face jugs are considered masterpieces of pottery that are unique to the Eastern North Carolina region.

The African culture includes respect of one’s elders and veneration of ancestors. As slaves in America, however, they were not permitted to place tombstones on the graves of their loved ones, and they had to find other ways to mark the graves of their ancestors.

It was in the Edgefield region of South Carolina that slave potters began to create face jugs. The story handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation was that in lieu of tombstones, slaves placed personal items on their loved ones’ graves along with face jugs.

Meanwhile, African slaves taken to the Caribbean adopted the voodoo religion; once in America, many converted to Christianity and merged their voodoo beliefs with a belief in the devil. Worship of ancestors, voodoo, and Christianity would then merge into the tradition of the face jug.

The “ugly face” jug came about as a result of the combined beliefs. Mr. Watford suspects that the face jug had to be ugly enough to scare the devil away from an ancestor’s grave so that his or her soul could rest and feel secure.

Face jugs made in the Carolinas continue to be among the most prized possessions of pottery collectors.

Submitted by: Michaelé Rose Watson, The Crystal Lady Gallery, 217 Middle St., New Bern, NC