Mint Exhibition Explores Face Jug Traditions Across Cultures

The exhibition Face It! explores the popularity of anthropomorphic vessels through time and across a number of American cultures. Face it! on view at the Mint Museum of Art April 4 � August 8, 2009

Co-curated by Consulting Curator of Ancient American Art Dorie Reents-Budet and Curator of Decorative Arts Brian Gallagher, the exhibition features rarely seen works of art from The Mint Museum’s permanent collections of ancient American art and North Carolina pottery, as well as some key loans from local collectors. Face jugs created by notable North Carolina potters such as Burlon Craig, Charlie Lisk and Joe Reinhardt will be featured in the Bridges Gallery, while the Levine Gallery will present beautifully crafted vessels from ancient Mexico, Costa Rica and South America.

The creative urge to give human form to pottery vessels is found all over the world from ancient to modern times.  Some art traditions favor a full rendering of the human form whereas others portray only the barest hint of the body.  Similarly, the purpose and meanings of these “humanized” containers vary according to the culture and audience for whom the artworks were made.
In the ancient Americas, anthropomorphized vessels were common among many cultures.  Some created vases and bowls whose forms and decoration make reference only to the human face, whereas others also allude to the body.  Although appealing to the eye, most vessels are not whimsical creations, but instead convey social, political or religious messages.

In North Carolina, very few face jugs were made until the second quarter of the 20th century, when they slowly attracted the attention of tourists looking for novelty gifts to bring home.  Their height of popularity did not begin until the 1970s, when Catawba Valley potter Burlon Craig re-popularized the form in response to a renewed interest among his customers.  Soon other North Carolina potters began making face jugs as well, so that today they come in all shapes and sizes, and with a wide variety of facial features and expressions.