Jim McDowell, Pottery


        North Carolina-based Jim McDowell, who calls himself “the Black Potter,” believes himself to be the only Black potter who creates face jugs based on both his family traditions and his sacred ancestral tradition of using face jugs as grave markers.

        “I found myself intrigued by a conversation between my father and some elder family members. They were talking about something called face jugs and how they related to our family history.

        Slaves were not allowed to have tombstones, they said, so sometimes pottery or even a face jug served as their grave markers. My great-great-great-great Aunt Evangeline was a village slave potter in Jamaica. She made face jugs, too. The story handed down from Evangeline was that slaves placed personal items on their loved ones' graves along with face jugs. 

        Many slaves who came to this country converted to Christianity and acquired a belief in the devil. They combined all their beliefs and came up with the ugly face jug. Apparently it had to be ugly enough to scare the devil away from your grave so your soul could go to heaven. When he was still living, my father gave me a face jug he acquired on a trip to Jamaica many decades ago. It is crudely made with rough features and I treasure it.

        When I started making face jugs more than 20 years ago, I heard about Slave Potter Dave from Edgefield, South Carolina, who could read and write and I was drawn to his story. Dave was owned by publishers of a newspaper. In the face of adversity and under the risk of severe punishment, this slave potter created jugs with rebellious sayings on them. Although there are no accounts that he ever made face jugs, I wanted to honor this courageous man and keep the tradition and spirit of Slave Potter Dave alive by writing messages on my jugs as Dave had done.”