Submitted by: Robin Gianis, Art Teacher, K-12 - Bridgehampton School, NY
Unit: Ceramics - African African American Folk Art
Lesson: Face Vessels: Original African American Folk Art
Grade Level: Middle School (Adaptable to elementary and high school)
Note: The lesson now appears in February 2006 Arts & Activities Magazine. Since it has been on Incredible Art Department since September 2003, I will not be removing it.
Between 1810 and 1865, an abundance of functional pottery was produced in the remote Edgefield Potteries in South Carolina and sold to neighboring counties and states. Edgefield Potteries was worked in part by artisan slaves who turned the pots, pushed the wheels, carried the pottery and loaded the kilns. In their free time, some of the artisans made pottery of their own choice. Many of them chose to make jugs and pots now known as Face Vessels. These were often stoneware jugs modeled in the shape of human faces. They were most often alkaline glazed stoneware in simple, earthy tones.
Though there are many gaps in historical data regarding the making, use and meaning of the face vessel pottery, there is no doubt that the vessels were original, functional artistic expressions of the African slave culture of the time. This all adds to the mystery of possible deeper meaning of the Face Vessels in the slave culture. Few of the skilled potters who made Face Vessels have been identified by name and their inspiration for making face vessels is really unknown. Researchers speculate that the vessels may have had religious or burial significance, or that they reflect the complex responses of people attempting to live and maintain their personal identities under cruel and often difficult conditions. Face Vessels have been found along the routes of the Underground Railroad and on grave-sites, both indicating how highly they were valued and how closely connected they were with the enslaved African American’s own culture.
Images of the original works provide great inspiration for this lesson. I do this lesson with my seventh grade, though it can be adapted for any age. To make the lesson even more exciting, I also show my students face vessels made by contemporary artisans in the spirit of the original designs. These modern day face vessels are often glazed with brightly colored underglazes and their faces are full of imaginative expression. The lesson takes approximately two weeks to complete in five forty-minute sessions. Allow drying time between finishing the hand building steps and the first firing.
As soon as they come out of the Kiln from the glaze firing, the face vessels are displayed in my front entry showcase along with a short description of the work and the valuable history behind it. Both the students and I feel pride in the accomplished work as well in the enlightenment we feel knowing the work and the history of the valuable contributions African Americans have made to American Folk Art with Face Vessels. One thing is for sure; if you make these with your students the works will become real school treasures!
From Robin: There is nothing like clay to make up a better hands-on learning experience for the middle school level. This particular lesson incorporates all the Standards for Learning in Art. It is one of my favorite lessons to teach during the 10 weeks each year when I teach seventh grade art.
There are many web sites that provide valuable information regarding the history of face vessels as well as fine images. The following may be helpful in getting started:
Alternate Lesson Plan from Annamae Heiman, Ben Franklin Middle School (Archive) in Cleveland, Ohio. It is tied to an "identity" unit and pulls in the jar's history from the South as well as Africa. Lesson uses a pinch pot method that requires junior high kids to refine those skills while incorporating another. There are also pictures with the lesson. It includes the planning pages as well as a final reflection/assessment.
For contemporary works:
http://www.pawprintpottery.biz/face_jugs.html | South Carolina Tradition | http://www.visitsoutherncomfort.com
Gain appreciation and knowledge of art history, specifically the African American contributions to folk art made in the South Carolina region.
Use the Internet to research Face Vessels in African American Folk Art
Imagine, and then draw in pencil on paper, expressive head designs for their vessels.
Form in clay, using the slab and coil methods, an expressive face vessel in the spirit of the Edgefield Potteries.
Apply a color scheme in glaze to complete the project.
Learn about glazing and firing techniques.
Drawing Pencils and white Drawing Paper for sketching.
Access to the Internet for viewing face vessels from past and present artisans.
Earthenware Clay, pin tools and wooden Clay Modeling Tools (Any firing clay may be used - or Air-Dry Clay)
Water for Slip
Plastic bags for wrapping the work-in-progress between classes, to keep it soft and pliable until complete.
Colored Glazes, or Underglazes and Clear Glaze.
Assorted soft Sable Brushes for applying glaze.
How to create Face Vessels:
I use approximately one pound of clay per student when beginning the process. I cover the work area with newspaper to facilitate cleanup. I prefer red clay, which makes a mess, but any color can be used for the project.
Introduce students to the history of face vessels with a class discussion and visit to the Internet sites listed.
Have students sketch 2 to3 designs of expressive faces and vessel shapes they might use. I like to give inspiration to my students to be as expressive as possible in their designs. I also encourage them to do monster faces, half-animal faces or any other sort of distorted or expressive face design they can come up with. Imagination is the key. When the sketches are complete have each student choose one to use for their project. SEE STUDENT SKETCH
Begin working in clay. A quick review of the slab and coil methods as well as general scoring and slipping techniques is helpful here. Because I do this with my seventh grade, and many of them have been my students for several years, I know they are familiar with both processes, but still need time to review each before becoming completely comfortable controlling the clay. I recommend they make their vessels approximately 5-10 inches high, but any size is possible. Width is up to the student, however, I do request a shape that begins narrow, rounds and widens through the middle, then narrows again at the top.
Once the vessel is built, I have them attach a handle or two (or three in some cases). The last thing I have them do is to sculpt their faces. This is done by adding and subtracting clay for a really three-dimensional face. Score and slip to attach handles and features.
When hand building is done, clay is dried and bisque-fired.
Bisque-fired clay is painted in brightly colored glazes or underglazes which are then carefully coated in shiny over glaze. The vessels are fired a second and final time for a finished product.
Alternate glazing: Use Amaco textured glazes like Pinkish Brown, Dark Blue textured, Antique blue - Gun metal and Metallic brown are also popular glazes for this project.
For Air-Dry Clay try a finish of Acrylic Stain.Shoe Polish also gives a nice effect.
Submitted by Kelly Wilke
Crete Middle School, Crete, Nebraska
This jug was made by one of her favorite students. He loves art. The horns turned out great and were actually an accident. He was going to make them straight out to the sides, but he dropped it and it bent one of the horns and he decided he liked it! The black "hair" is actually a handle of a lid. And the eyes are Beads glued in. He worked so hard. He will be adding an earring in the hole in the ear and a tongue ring in the hole in the tongue. Another one (with the spikey hair and the black and blue glaze) was an accident, too. He started with a coil pot when the top half collapsed and fell into the bottom half. He ended up with a cone shape sitting in a bowl shape. Accidents can be a fun way to create!
You can do this using coil method -- starting with a pinch pot and adding (even start the pot inside a butter dish for extra support -- using a plastic wrap separator). I have added wide slab like coils to make the process go faster. You can put a balloon inside to help support the shape. The other method I have used is a slab cylinder. With middle school you can use Pringles cans - and for lower grades soup cans or pop cans work great (for mugs). Just be sure to take the slab off the can before it shrinks too much (it can be almost impossible to remove without cutting the seam). If you wrap the can in enough newspapers that should help to dry out the clay enough to remove the can the next day. Another option that works is to use a piece of cardboard rolled as a separator around the can (Ann Heineman suggests wax paper)- then the clay slides off easily and you still have the cardboard to help support the clay. Removing the clay from the cylinder while still somewhat moist gives you the opportunity to give the face some expression - pressing in the eye socket area etc. -- distorting the cylinder shape somewhat. I had students do these to show culture... what can you say about our culture? Rather than just duplicating the look of the Southern/African American face jugs.
Book: Pottery Basics: Everything You Need to Know to Start Making Beautiful Ceramics- This book covers types of clay, basic modeling methods such as throwing, pinching, coiling, and trimming, techniques for bisque and glaze firing, and much more.
Older students could wrap around a 2 liter bottle (suggested by Amanda Lin)
From Debbie Bridges
I also have a lesson which is connected to our Georgia culture. We have some famous folk artists such as Lanier Meaders family and the Hewell family. I was at the 11th annual "Turning and Burning Festival" held at the Hewell's in Gillsville, Ga. Shown are two Hewell face jugs I purchased. If you are interested these artists are on the internet.
A Lanier Meaders' face jug can be worth up to $30,000 and more! Mr. Meaders is in the Smithsonian. The S.C. face jug artists are around Edgefield, S.C. If anyone has any pottery with Dave on it, it can be worth $140,000. He was a slave and his mark is on his work.
Submitted by Judie Jacobs High School Lesson
These whimsical face jugs are made with traditional coil method. Coils are smoothed together. Revise lesson plan on IAD. Form can be completed more quickly by cutting some one inch wide slabs and fusing on to raise the form. A somewhat symmetrical form is encouraged. Faces are added along with ears, spouts, handles. Eyes and teeth were made with White Sculpture Raku Clay. Jeannie Sandoval did a similar unit with middle school using broken white china for the teeth. Broken pieces were fired in place.