Although the Battle for the Old Mountain Jug, the traditional football game involving longtime rivals Western Carolina University and Appalachian State, may have ended with ASU’s departure from the Southern Conference earlier this year, there’s a different kind of jug of interest on the Cullowhee campus these days. Actually, there are nine of them. Students in an upper-level ceramics class created jugs featuring likenesses of each of the Noble Nine, the original trustees of the institution that became WCU.
Matt Liddle, director of WCU’s School of Art and Design, suggested the idea of the creation of face jugs depicting the university’s early leaders as a way for art students to contribute to the yearlong celebration of the 125th anniversary of the institution’s founding. Joan Byrd, now-retired professor of ceramics, took the idea and ran with it, soliciting student volunteers from her ceramics classes to take on the project. The participating students worked on the jugs on their own time outside of the classroom. Kevin McNiff, a student in the Master of Fine Arts Program with a concentration in ceramics, first made the basic jug forms on the wheel in the school’s ceramics studio, and then the undergraduate students created the faces based on their interpretation of images of the Noble Nine from the university’s Special Collections in Hunter Library.
A traditional folk art form, face jugs have become a favorite collectible item for tourists visiting the region, said Byrd. “The origins of the face jug are a matter of conjecture, but it is generally thought that the tradition originated with African-American slaves in the southern United States who enjoyed the opportunity to echo the traditions of their African homeland,” she said. “There are many interpretations of these pots. Some historians believe the faces were used in the practice of voodoo, while others think that the ugly features were applied to whiskey jugs to frighten children away from the contents. Whatever their origin, face jugs are widely valued today as a unique expression of Southern culture.”
The face jugs are on display in the main lobby of the H.F. Robinson Administration Building. They also will be displayed at other venues during the remainder of WCU’s 125th anniversary year, along with information on the Noble Nine, face jugs as a genre, and the story of these specific jugs.
The Noble Nine and the students who captured in clay their collective countenances are R. Hamilton Brown (Ross Byrd and Ann Suggs), J. David Coward (Krista Fitzgerald), Thomas A. Cox (Logan Brashar), Daniel D. Davies (Suzanne Rose), William A. Henson (Amanda Janes), William C. Norton (Melena Reid ’14), Lewis J. Smith (Kirby Phillips), Robert L. Watson (Ann Suggs) and William M. Wilson (Ogle Pace).