Ugly Jugs

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Last week at the Presurfer I saw a video of Alabama potter Jerry Brown making a jug. It was interesting enough that I went to YouTube to grab the video, and found a whole series of videos of the same guy, each more fascinating than the one before. Especially this one:

I was afraid of what would come up when I Googled "ugly jugs", but with safe search, I found just what I was looking for. Jugs with faces date back to antiquity, but became an American folk art tradition. The time and place this tradition began depends on your source, and the jugs had several purported purposes which could all be valid.

More ugly faces, after the jump.

Jerry Brown heard that slaves made ugly jugs to distinguish the different liquids inside. Jugs with faces were for the ones you couldn't drink, such as kerosene.

Potter Jim McDowell heard the history of the jugs handed down through generations. According to family lore, ugly jugs were used by slaves as grave markers, made ugly to scare the devil away. McDowell's face jugs include messages, like this one that says "Don't judge the color of my skin; judge me by the content of my character."
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According to Pawprint Pottery of Barnwell, South Carolina, ugly jugs were used to keep kids out of the moonshine. They were made as scary as possible for this purpose! These jugs with recycled porcelain teeth would do the trick.
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Potters provided jugs for bootleggers during the 1920s, but made them with ugly faces to show their support for Prohibition.

The Smithsonian Institution doesn't know what purpose the ugly jugs served, but places their origin in South Carolina in the mid 1800s.
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Most sources I found placed the face jug tradition as beginning in Edgefield, South Carolina, although they are also associated with Georgia and other southern states. Georgia artist Brian Wilson made these whistling face jugs.
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American Folk Art and Framing places the origin of face jugs in the piedmont region of North Carolina and Georgia. They feature works by many different artists, including this cross-eyed face jug.
435_AmericanCrossEyedFaceJug.JPG

Clayton Bailey makes face jugs with runny noses!
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Here is the original video I saw of pottery artist Jerry Brown of Hamilton, Alabama, throwing a jug.

He also tells of his experiences in other short video clips, recorded to promote The Year of Alabama Artists.

Now I want an ugly jug. If they can scare away children and the devil, maybe they can ward off mosquitos and telemarketers!

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August 28, 2007 - 12:44am
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