Collection Spotlight: Edgefield Face Vessel
By Paul Matheny, Director of Collections
This unique object in the collection of the State Museum is an Edgefield face vessel made between 1855-1865. It is attributed to a previously known, enslaved craftsperson working at the Lewis Miles' Stony Bluff Manufactory. This pottery shop was located at Horse Creek Valley, Edgefield District, S.C. where the master potter Dave Drake also created his large scale vessels. This jug is also one of only a handful of the unique vessels that illustrate a protruding tongue as part of the applied facial features. Face vessels are specific to our statewide tangible history and traditional art, with the earliest examples primarily made by enslaved craftspeople in the mid-19th century beginning in the Edgefield District. This tradition spread throughout the Southeast and is continued by folk potters and even some studio potters today.
The origins of these specific anthropomorphic vessels can be debated, whether they were ritualistic in nature, designed to hold alcoholic spirits or poison with a scary face that would frighten away children, while other researchers believe that they were used to ward off evil spirits or simply created as an end-of-the-day whimsey after a hard day of pottery production.