The Jug Man

At the end of May, I took up a challenge, responding to an invitation from The Wells and Mendip Museum to local people to ‘Get to know your museum’, asking the question, ‘Have you ever walked past the museum on Cathedral Green and wondered what’s inside?’ …. How could I resist!

With the opportunity to develop creative work and produce an artistic response to fresh inspiration, I leapt at the chance to get involved. With three other local artists, we partnered up with museum volunteers and a wonderful arts mentor to explore the collections. We were give six weeks to produce a creative response to something that inspired us in the museum. Given uninterrupted time looking at the exhibits with someone who knows the museum very well I found myself engaging with many interesting things.

What caught my eye the most was a 13th – 14th century jug which was found in Wedmore. The jug is missing many pieces but includes a complete face and has great character. His features have been formed by hand from the clay and he’s been given a beard and a rustic smile. The face has been pinched and marked with a stick to create the features, with blobs applied to form the eyes and mouth, which were then prodded with a stick to make eyeballs and teeth.

I decided that I wanted to create conceptual art that encourages curiosity about the ‘faces’ or ‘beings’ in the museum that I’ve been inspired by. Faces present, permanent, broken, partial and erased. Some faces are complete, preserved for many years. Some items gave a hint or background of a face or identity (such as the bones and skulls) and some have been completely erased like the weather-worn stone carvings form the cathedral. 

I knew that I wanted to make something from metal, cast in the same way as Mendip lead would have been in Roman times. Pewter was the obvious material, as lead itself is too toxic to spend time with. The Romans would have cast their lead ingots into clay or sand moulds. A similar method is still used today. One-off pieces of jewellery and small items are often cast in Delft clay, which I have in my workshop. I thought of constructing a pewter face, based on the Wedmore Jug Man, leaving parts of it missing. I would complete the rest of the features and outline with material that was organic and would not last. To represent the face as a whole, I would cast its shadow behind it onto a background that related to it. The shadow would be a complete face and much larger than life. 

You can see some of the processes I went through when creating the jug man on my instagram:


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And here’s the final product…

It is rare to work on a non-commercial creative project where there is a framework of unconditional creative support and expert knowledge. I’m very grateful to the museum’s amazing staff and volunteers for their time, help and encouragement, particularly Sue Isherwood my museum partner.  If you find an opportunity to explore somewhere you haven’t been before, give it a try, you might start to see things in a different way! 


This was written and published as part of the ‘Hidden Gems’ series of articles by Erica Sharpe for the Western Daily Press.