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Lincolnton holds monthlong exhibit of face jugs

By Julia Sendor
Correspondent

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    Opening night of Facing Tradition will be 6-9 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Lincoln Cultural Center, 403 East Main St., Lincolnton,. For more information about the exhibit, contact the Arts Council at 704-732-9044.



Grinning, grimacing, even baring a full mouth of teeth – the massive face jugs of downtown Lincolnton’s “Pots on Parade” command the attention of passersby.

The public can now explore the history and cultural significance of these face jugs, at the “Facing Tradition” pottery exhibit, organized by the Arts Council of Lincoln County. The exhibition’s opening night, Sept. 13, will feature an unveiling of the four newest Pots on Parade, several dozen old and new jugs, walking tours, live music, and refreshments.

The exhibit runs until Oct. 4 in the Lincoln Cultural Center galleries. Some pots will be available for sale; 30 percent of profits will support the Arts Council of Lincoln County.

Lincoln County potter Luke Heafner, who coordinated the exhibit with the Arts Council, explained that many residents are familiar with the Catawba Valley pottery traditions, which stretch back 200 years. Yet some passersby still view the jugs with a puzzled eye.

“They ask, ‘Why do we have this?’” said Heafner. “(The exhibit) is almost an answer to that question.”

At the exhibition, visitors can witness a timeline of face jug styles, from the traditional wood-fired pots with ash-based glazes, to the modern electric- and gas-fired clay. The tours will offer an introduction to the history of the face jug and pottery tradition, which began with German settlers in the Carolinas in the late 1700s. More recently, nationally renowned potter Burlon Craig sparked a revival of the traditional wood-fired method, firing pots until his death in 2002.

However, the origin of the faces remains a mystery – why did some potters decide to carve them onto the jugs?

One theory, Heafner explained, is that the jugs traditionally held liquor; the haunting faces were meant to scare children away from the jug. Others attribute the faces to African American slaves; face jugs have been unearthed throughout the route of the Underground Railroad Trail. Several books detailing the history of Catawba Valley Pottery will be on sale during the exhibition.

Today, the jugs offer artists a chance to connect with their heritage while unleashing their creativity.

“Exhibits like this one, they’re an opportunity for us to show how diverse the talent is in our community,” said Laurie Bostian, Executive Director of the Arts Council of Lincoln County.

“Some (jugs) make you laugh, some are scary – they’re terrifying. But that’s the beauty of them. They’re so expressive …What’s more expressive than a face?”

For the Pots on Parade, Heafner created the jugs, and other local artists carved and molded the faces. At the exhibit, Heafner and other artists have created their own jugs. The exhibits have drawn artists in the community to collaborate, Bostian pointed out.

“It really shows how art unifies us,” she said.

The jugs also draw in the public, in an especially physical and emotional way.

“These are so massive, and you just want to walk up to them and touch them – and you can,” said Bostian.

Heafner recalled how some pottery collectors seek out the face jugs because it reminds them of grandparents and long-ago memories.

“For others, people can connect with something that has a face on it,” he said. “It gives them something that’s local that they can connect to. Rather than, ‘I went to Wal-Mart,’ (they can say), ‘I went to a local guy and bought it from him, and this is who he is.’”

For the long-term, Heafner and others are collaborating on a plan for a Catawba Valley Pottery center, to showcase and market the craftsmanship of local potters. For now, Bostian explained that she hopes exhibits like “Facing Tradition” will continue to boost quality of life -- and even the local economy.

“The arts really improve quality of life, and it’s that quality of life that draws people to a community,” said Bostian. Jobs follow people, people follow quality of life. If that’s what we have to offer, we will bring it.”

Julia Sendor is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Julia? Email her at julia.b.sendor@gmail.com

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