Two very different pots stare me in the face. On one, a noble American Indian steadily gazes out from under a fang-bearing rattlesnake. The other shows a bug-eyed, bucktoothed, fat face with a devil’s smile that hides some recent high jinks. I'm surrounded by these odd visages--some handsome, others so ugly that only a mother could love them--in the gallery portion of the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia. Every piece in here, beautiful or not, is evocative.
This museum displays more examples of face jugs, new and old, than anywhere else. After looking at each one, I can begin to match the style with the potter's name. These are my top five tidbits gleaned from strolling through this collection in Sautee-Nacoochee.
1. Feats of Clay
Face jugs revived a dying lifestyle in the southern Appalachians. Potters typically made usable bowls, jugs, plates, and so on--whatever people needed on the farms without access to store-bought goods. After Prohibition stopped the jug trade and new roads came into the jumbled mountains, the potters made show pots to sell to the tourists.
2. The Origins of Face Jugs
Some folks claim these objects are ugly to scare kids away from moonshine and poisons. Potter Lanier Meaders says that children were told their faces would look like those on the pots if they drank the liquor out of them. More scholarly folk claim that slaves used them as talismans in the fire to protect the utilitarian pottery from evil spirits.
3. Art as Second Nature
Many of the animal figures, such as the very collectible roosters, came from Arie Meaders. She dabbled in bird forms--turkeys, peacocks, quail--as well as elephants and grapes and vines with pots. While Arie also made roosters, it is her son, Edwin, who is best known for his roosters.
4. Clay Clans
Pottery families seem stuck in the mud business--each generation continues the art form. While the Craven family roots go back to England, the Hewell children learn to throw pots as soon as they can walk. Eli Hewell has one of his first pots on display here--made when he was 2.
5. It's All About Collecting
The museum’s displays started as a personal journey by philanthropist Kay Swanson. Her family ran the local telephone company, and as she traveled with her father to see customers, she met the potters at work as well as the people using the pottery. Years later when she sold the phone company to Alltel, she and her husband, Dean, donated the museum as a gift to the mountain community.
There's far more to know, of course, and you can take your time delving into the museum's treasures. Or you can simply look at the pots and wonder at the talent that still thrives in these hills. •
Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia: Sautee-Nacoochee Center, 283 State 255 North (4 miles southeast of Helen); www.folkpotterymuseum.com or (706) 878-3300, ext. 307. Admission: $4 adults, $2 seniors and ages 18 and under.
"A Tribute to Georgia Folk Potters" is from the April 2008 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.