Two time-honored icons of local tradition brought together in celebration of the 125th
anniversary of Western Carolina University. An exhibit created by the Mountain Heritage
Center & curated by Anne T. Lane.
Special thanks to Joan Byrd & her ceramics students in the WCU School of Art & Design.
Joan Byrd's ceramics students brought to life Matt Liddle's idea to immortalize the Noble Nine as face jugs. Kevin McNiff, a graduate student, threw the jugs in gray stoneware. Other students drew names and were given photographs to guide their work. Only one of them had done a face jug before, and Joan said they giggled a lot as they worked. The clay was kept damp, allowing the students to model the features. White clay was used for facial hair and eyes. The jugs were glazed in Amber Celadon with a clear glaze over the hair and painted features, then fired in the school's gas kiln. Different thicknesses in glaze application account for the variation in color.
Matt Liddle is the director of WCU's School of Art & Design. Joan Byrd has taught ceramics at WCU for 46 years; is retiring in June 2014.
The Noble Nine supported from the start Robert Lee Madison's dream of training teachers to spread educational opportunities throughout western North Carolina. Madison was about to leave in 1889 to take a job in Raleigh, but they pledged to devote their time and money to realization of his "Cullowhee Idea." They were named trustees of the newly chartered Cullowhee High School in 1891. The rest is history – the development of Madison's and the Noble Nine's one hundred twenty-five year old idea into Western Carolina University.
Some pottery historians say they were developed by enslaved African American potters who made them for amusement, drawing on African and Voodoo traditions. Others say they were made to scare the children away from the whiskey. As cheap mass-produced containers cut into the livelihoods of Appalachian potters, face jugs and other decorative wares helped them maintain a market. Protuberant teeth and creepy features are still seen at every craft show in every imaginable variation of color and technique.
Click the photographs or the names below them to learn more about the Noble Nine and see the ceramic students' tributes to them.