It is a well known fact among dragon lovers and dragon lore that all dragons have three toes, breath fire, and have large bulging eyes. - Ben Watford
Potter Ben Watford's "African-American Grave Markers” (face jugs) seek to present and preserve a facet of the African-American experience. Watford’s face jugs stand ready to give evil spirits the heebie-jeebies. Watford describes them as “beautifully ugly,” but the appearance of the jugs had a purpose for early African-Americans.
Slaves coming into America from the Caribbean were steeped in Voodoo – a blend of African beliefs and Christianity that recognized heaven but also recognized evil spirits that could prevent someone’s entrance into heaven. Slaves were denied the right to place headstones on the graves of their dead. At this time, artisan slaves working in the Edgefield Potteries in South Carolina began creating face jugs in their spare time. The jugs had to be small to fit in the kiln between pots that the factory owner intended to sell. These jugs could be placed at the graves of slaves to serve both as markers and to scare away evil spirits, allowing the soul to enter heaven. Thus, “the uglier, the better,” says Watford.
According to Watford, his lifelong love affair with pottery was born out of boredom. Growing up in Hertford County, North Carolina, in a family of 15 children, he and his siblings did not have toys to play with. However, one thing was always in abundance – clay. “You couldn’t walk anywhere without getting it all over your shoes,” said Watford. But mixed with some water, clay became magic. The kids made their own toys, including statues of siblings, trucks and anything that could be fashioned out of clay.
Watford earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and mathematics from Howard University and a master’s in chemistry from Tuskegee University. He became a teacher of chemistry and math at both the high school and college levels in New York.