The Columns

Quirky Ceramics Tell Fascinating Tales A new exhibit, “Mementos of the Great War: Toby Jugs Commemorating Allied Leaders of World War I,” is open to the public in the Watson Pavilion at Washington and Lee University through December 2017.

— by on March 10th, 2017

Woodrow Wilson Toby Jug

In 1918, to celebrate the United States’ entrance into World War I a year earlier, the A. J. Wilkinson Pottery issued a Toby jug modeled after Woodrow Wilson. Dressed as Uncle Sam, Wilson sits on a biplane, “giving,” as one British advertisement suggested, “the idea that he is sending it over to the Front to join us in our One Great Cause.” To ensure that the sentiments represented by the jug are clear, “Welcome Uncle Sam!” is emblazoned around the base.

The jug joined 11 others that had been produced by Wilkinson to commemorate allied English and French military and civilian leaders of World War I. The jugs were designed by Francis Carruthers Gould, a popular political cartoonist of the time, and were retailed by Soane & Smith Ltd., a high-end ceramics and glass dealer in London.

The first jug, depicting Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, appeared in January 1915. Others were put into production as new figures gained prominence. A twelfth jug depicting Winston Churchill as the First Lord of the Admiralty (a position he held from 1911 to 1915) was not produced until 1941. The reason for the delay of more than two decades is thought to have been Churchill’s connection to the disastrous defeat at Gallipoli. The design was revived and put into production after Churchill became Prime Minister.

The jugs were issued in limited editions of from 250 to 1,000 (Kitchener got only 250 while King George V got 1,000), and were advertised as an investment; Soane & Smith somewhat self-servingly asked “we quite realize that economy is the order of the day, but what is a good investment but economy in its finest form? Why not, therefore, procure your set before the prices increase still further?” The jugs were also donated to charitable auctions and raffles raising money for the war effort; one jug depicting Admiral Jellicoe made £296.

The full set of jugs, on loan from W&L alumnus Bruce C. Perkins, is featured in the exhibit “Mementos of the Great War: Toby Jugs Commemorating the Allied Leaders of World War I.” Perkins loaned the jugs to W&L to help mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S.’s entrance into WWI. The exhibit will be on display in the Watson Pavilion through December 2017.

For more information about the exhibit, click here.

Meet W&L’s Oldest Ceramic In the first installment of our new series, Ron Fuchs tells the story behind a 4,000-year-old jar in Watson Pavilion.

— by on January 11th, 2017

Editor’s Note:

Welcome to “From the Collections,” a brand new series in The Columns that will highlight the many fascinating objects in University Collections of Art and History. Through the ages, Washington and Lee University has been a trusted steward of art and history; today, it is home to thousands of important works and historic objects that are housed under the umbrellas of The Reeves Collection, Lee Chapel and Museum, and the Art Collection. 

Some of these items are on display for the campus community and visitors to see, while others are currently housed in storage. In addition, the university frequently acquires new objects for the collections.  In monthly installments written by UCAH staff, “From the Collections” will tell the stories of some of these items, from the oldest objects in the collections to the most exciting new acquisitions. 

Stay tuned for another new series, “Out of the Vault,” that will focus on the Special Collections Department of Leyburn Library and will debut within the next few weeks.

This jar, made in China more than 4,000 years ago, is the oldest ceramic in W&L’s collection.

This large jar, which is on display just inside the front door of the Watson Pavilion, is the oldest ceramic in the Reeves Collection, and is one of the oldest human-made objects at Washington and Lee University.

It was made in northwestern China more than 4,000 years ago by people of the Majiayao Culture. These people did not have potter’s wheels (which were developed in southern China about 3000 BCE), so this piece was made by stacking long coils of clay one on top of another, and then joining them together with a paddle to make a smooth, thin-walled vessel.

The jar was probably made to store food for the afterlife, and would have been buried with its owner. Since the people who made this jar left behind no written record, we have no real idea about whether the jar’s decoration had religious or cultural significance, or if it was done to satisfy what seems to be an innate human desire for decoration and pattern. Some scholars have seen in its swirling lines evidence of an interest in brushwork that would later manifest itself in calligraphy, one of China’s highest art forms.

The jar was bought by a group of donors to honor Elizabeth Watson, who gave the funds that built the Watson Pavilion. However, the acquisition of jars like this is not without controversy; they are found below ground, usually in graves. Disturbed during construction or outright looted, they are robbed of their context and often smuggled out of China. When the Reeves bought this jar in the 1990s, museums were not aware of — or were not concerned about — such issues. Today we are, and we would not acquire something without a known provenance (museum-speak for an object’s place of discovery and history).

Ancient jars like these are also players in the contemporary art world. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has painted similar jars with the Coca-Cola logo and dipped others in brightly colored paint to symbolize the destruction of traditional Chinese culture by government oppression and globalization.