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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.
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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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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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