Smile Politely

Don’t miss artist Jim McDowell speaking about Black pottery and face jugs

Jim McDowell, an artist and self-identified Black Potter, will give a virtual lecture at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 16th. The event is sponsored by the University of Illinois’ Art + Design Visitors Committee, HRI Supplemental Event Fund, African American Studies, Department of History, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Krannert Art Museum.

The lecture is free and open to the public, but registration is required. You can learn a little more about McDowell on the Krannert Art Museum event page.

McDowell says of his work:

I call myself the Black Potter. Seems appropriate, not only because I am a potter who is a Black man, but because in my world of pottery, I have learned from, taught, sold to, and worked with mostly white people. I stand out.

I have mostly been the Black Potter in a white world that supported me but lived also in the Black world where I saw tragedy, living while Black. I’m the fulcrum, obliged to balance it all. I’m still plumbing the depths of my artistic vision. I feel freer than ever to tell the story of my people with clay and my bare hands. And I’ll keep on doing it.

Face jugs are exactly what they sound like: ceramic vessels with faces on the side. Historical examples are specific to the mid-19th century American South, made almost exclusively by enslaved Black people. White people later began making them, lifting the idea from the examples found among enslaved communities. McDowell’s practice picks up and expands on this tradition.

Krannert Art Museum recently acquired a face jug, and it’s very cool (pictured above). Find it on your next visit to the museum.

Top image Unknown Artist, Face Jug, ca. 1850-1865, glazed stoneware. Photo by Jessica Hammie.


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