Kenyon College

Face Jug


Face Jug. 1840-1860.
12.5 cm (h) x 6.2 cm (d).
Courtesy of The Charleston Museum.


Bulging, unglazed eyeballs, a long nose with flaring nostrils, and an open mouth with incised teeth comprise a jarring portrait. This grimacing, ceramic-glazed face adorns a monkey jug, attributed to the Miles Mill Pottery Studio in Edgefield, South Carolina. Monkey jugs are variations of the face jug genre. The first face vessels can be traced to the African Congo. In 1858, a slave ship landed illegally on the coast of Jekyll Island, Georgia, with a cargo of 407 enslaved Africans, most of whom were from the Congo. Many of them ended up working in the nearby Edgefield potteries. Scholars speculate that their arrival coincided with the emergence of American face jugs. In the 19th century, face vessels were used for both decorative and utilitarian purposes. Some stored water, while others played a role in religious ceremonies. According to the Congo tradition, a village’s shaman would fill a nkisi, or face vessel, with materials like white river clay, which were believed to have magical properties, capable of activating the object and summoning a spirit.

Han Zaw ‘15