"Babe Ruth" Face Jug
Ten miles from the United States Sports Academy’s Daphne campus is a place where history and world culture combine in the works of local ceramic Potter John Rezner.
Rezner, the American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA) 2011 Sport Artist of the Year, is known for a style of pottery that has roots in the early 19th century and a firing technique that can be traced back to ancient Asia.
The Fairhope, Ala.-based artist makes pottery that is seen all over the world, from clay he digs from his own land. Baldwin County clay is highly prized for its aesthetic qualities. The public can even witness him firing his clay, in a kiln that can fire up to 500 pots at one time, on his property at 21270 Hwy 181 in Fairhope.
As a sport artist, Rezner specializes in face jug depictions of baseball legends, such as Babe Ruth, whose career home-run and single-season home-run records each stood for more than three decades; Hank Aaron, a native of nearby Mobile, Ala. who broke Ruth’s career home-run record in 1974; and Ted Williams, the first player ever to bat over .400 for a single season in the major leagues whose Hall of Fame career was twice interrupted by service as a Marine pilot in World War II and Korea. All three jugs are on display at the Academy.
A member of the Academy’s Art Committee, Rezner created a face jug – a jug shaped with an individual’s facial features – of the Abbot of the Shaolin Temple, leader of millions of Shaolin Buddhists.
“I presented (the jug) as a symbol of our two cultures merging,” Rezner said.
The jug is now in China as part of the Shaolin Temple’s museum collection. The Abbot received the gift when he visited the Academy’s Daphne campus in 2006 upon receiving an honorary doctorate.
Face Jugs are a unique pottery item found in the South, according to Karl Kuehn, a collector in Huntington Beach, Calif. He said the origin of face jugs is not know for certain, but has its roots in the African American slave community. Some of the earliest examples are credited to “Dave the Slave,” who produced pottery from the 1820’s to the 1860’s in the Edgefield, S.C. area. Folk history holds that when someone in the slave community died, the jugs were modeled with devil faces and placed on the grave for a year. If the jug broke it was thought to be a sign that the soul of the deceased was wrestling with the devil. A second theory is that the scary faces were applied to jugs containing moonshine to keep children away from the contents.
Face jugs are still a widely collected form of pottery and are growing in popularity due to influential works by the legendary Lanier Meaders (White County, Ga. 1917 – 1998) who was descended from a family of potters. Another such potter, Steve Abee of Lenoir, N.C. belongs to the Catawba Valley, N.C. pottery tradition.
Rezner’s pottery is the combination of three of his greatest passions: his family, the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay and traditional pottery techniques. His work is fired using an anagama kiln, which is an ancient Asian cave-like pottery kiln that uses the flame from burning wood as an artistic element. The method originated in China but was brought to Japan via Korea in the fifth century. For generations, the anagama techniques have been adapted into Southern pottery.
Rezner’s jugs can be purchased at the Academy’s Daphne campus, at One Academy Drive, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Founded in 1984, ASAMA, a division of the United States Sports Academy, is dedicated to the preservation of sports art, history, and literature. The ASAMA collection is composed of more than 1,500 works of sport art across a variety of media, including paintings, sculptures, assemblages, prints, and photographs.
The museum is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.