Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

From the Chipstone Collection—Of Ghosts and Speculation

Face Jug, 1860-80. Chipstone Foundation Collection. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.
Face Jug, 1860-80. Chipstone Foundation Collection. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Those of you that have been through Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina might be wondering what the big silvery face jug is and how it fits into the exhibition.

It’s a contemporary artwork by artist Brian Gillis, titled Of Ghosts and Speculation. Gillis is based out of Eugene, Oregon, and describes himself as a “multidisciplinary artist whose practice examines relevant socio-cultural issues that may have fallen on deaf ears, been buried over time, or simply obscured by something else.” His work often deals with interpretations of history as well as how this information is archived.

I began discussing the early Edgefield face jugs with Brian last summer, and he was instantly fascinated by the fact that the face jug story has been lost over time. It didn’t seem like their origin and purpose had been passed down from generation to generation. We knew certain facts, such as that they were made in the Edgefield District of South Carolina, and that they were made by slaves, and, later, free African Americans in the second half of the 19th century.

For the most part, though, the face jugs had become an enigma.

Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection–English Monteith

George Garthorne (English), Monteith, 1688. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, Virginia Booth Vogel Acquisition Fund. Photo by John R. Glembin.

‘Tis the spirit! There are spirits of Christmas past, jolly good tidings and spirits of the season, and then my favorite type of holiday spirits: The beer, liquors, and wines that keep us jolly through office parties and family reunions.

In what started as a playful nod to seasonal parties, I thought I’d highlight a late 17th-century silver monteith in the Museum’s Collection. But what started as a jolly excuse to talk about wine consumption then and now soon turned dark, as often happens when you dig deeper into the layered meanings of cultural objects.