Anna Pottery (Anna, IL), Designer: Wallace Kirkpatrick, Snake Jug, c. 1880–1890. Stoneware with dark brown slip and applied, incised decoration. Gift of the Department of Ceramic Engineering at the University of Illinois, Ries Collection. 1980-5-54
Collection Highlight

The whiskey (snake) jug bears 12 finely articulated timber rattlesnakes and three men. The snakes slither out of the jug and sprawl in tangles across most of its surface. Two young men dive into it through its sides and, in front, the head of an aged bearded man emerges, bedraggled. Five snakes are posed to attack the revenant from below; a sixth, striking from above, already has the crown of his head between its jaws.

Little is known of the reception of the Kirkpatricks' figural works in their own time. In the twentieth century, scholars saw the Kirkpatrick snake jugs as temperance warnings against the evils of drink. More recent interpreters, however, draw attention to the jugs' grotesque, macabre, sexual, and scatological aspects, their humor, and their self-consciously extravagant style, and argue that they are an ironic debunking of Victorian values. According to the reading, the Kirkpatricks were, like their contemporary Mark Twain, misanthropic liberals.

This jug was exhibited July 14–Dec 31, 2018 at the Illinois Executive Mansion in Springfield, IL as part of the State of Illinois Bicentennial Exhibition Art of Illinois.

Text by Richard D. Mohr, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008