Small ceramic jug with odd looking face featuring large ears and nose, mouth open slightly with a protruding tongue.
Deeper Dive Series

Recent Pottery Acquisition: Edgefield Face Vessel

Small ceramic jug with image of face fashioned into its side with its tongue sticking out

By Paul Matheny, Director of Collections

While the museum has an estimated 1.1 million objects in its collection, it is important for our team to always build on our vast collection and fill any gaps within it. The museum filled one notable gap in our South Carolina Pottery and Ceramic Art collection earlier this year by acquiring an Edgefield face vessel made between 1855 – 1865.

This unique object 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. Regardless of the original intent, this important piece of pottery has found a home within the museum’s collection and is currently on display in the current exhibition, Show and Tell.