From the early 1800s, pottery yards in Edgefield were major producers of utilitarian stoneware, which was made by both enslaved and free persons. Face jugs were initially created only by African American potters, until after the 1880s, when white potters also started to produce their own versions.
The original inspiration, function, and meaning of face jugs are no longer known and have become the subject of much scholarly debate.
Research suggests that the introduction of the form might relate to the 1858 arrival of the illegal slave ship Wanderer, which brought 170 people predominantly from the Kikongo-speaking regions of central Africa to the Edgefield District—many of whom went on to work in the pottery yards. This history has inspired some scholars to speculate further on the formal connections between Kongo power figures of nineteenth-century central Africa and Edgefield face jugs.
Author: Maureen Warren, Curator of European and American Art, 2019