Skip to content
This Marie Rogers devil face jug, featuring a Bible verse, realized $900 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2013. Image courtesy of Slotin Folk Art and LiveAuctioneers.

Marie Rogers put her own spin on Southern folk pottery

A two-color Marie Rogers swirl face jug made $600 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Slotin Folk Art and LiveAuctioneers.
A two-color Marie Rogers swirl face jug made $600 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Slotin Folk Art and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK – Southern folk pottery was largely a patriarchal tradition, with fathers passing the skill along to their sons. Up until well into the 20th century, Southern women folk potters were few and far between. Marie Gooden Rogers was a notable exception who took face jugs — a form dominated by generations of men in the Meaders family — and made it her own.

Described as the only female practitioner of Georgia’s Jugtown pottery tradition, Rogers (1922-2010) took up pottery five years after her husband, Horace, a fourth-generation potter, died in 1962. As with her few female counterparts, she came to it late in life. It was typical then for men to make large utilitarian pottery pieces while women served as housewives, pursuing pottery only after their children were grown.

Surprisingly, Rogers’ online obituary doesn’t mention her pottery-making. If not for the small photo that shows her with a few pieces in her hand, those reading her obituary would not know of her late-in-life career that attracted the attention of folk art dealers, collectors and curators. The Museum of Northeast Georgia held an exhibition in 2021, The Men Won’t Tell Us Anything, which featured work by 11 women potters born before 1940, Gooden included.

A grouping of six molded and turned Marie Rogers jugs earned $625 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020. Image courtesy of Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A grouping of six molded and turned Marie Rogers jugs earned $625 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020. Image courtesy of Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

While her husband made churns, crocks and similar large pieces that are physically demanding to produce, she focused on small figures and face jugs. A grouping of six molded and turned jugs shows her range; it features faces smiling and not smiling, toothy grins as well as closed mouths, and a diversity in glazing, decoration and sizes. The lot earned $625 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020 at Leland Little Auctions.

Auctioneer Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia met Gooden back in the 1980s, when she was in her sixties and routinely attending his summer Folk Fest art shows. He said, “I can only count a handful of women who were not just making Southern pottery but making face jugs.”

Transcending pottery as a utilitarian form, Rogers instead created works designed to be artful, not functional. “They were endearing, they were crude and they were very expressive,” Slotin said.

This Marie Rogers devil face jug, featuring a Bible verse, realized $900 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2013. Image courtesy of Slotin Folk Art and LiveAuctioneers.
This Marie Rogers devil face jug, featuring a Bible verse, realized $900 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2013. Image courtesy of Slotin Folk Art and LiveAuctioneers.

She sometimes gave her faces crying eyes or inscribed religious sayings and Bible verses on her jugs such as “Jesus saves” or “There are no tears in Heaven,” Slotin noted, adding, “And that’s really what sets her off, not just from all the other potters, but any female potter or anybody else who was creating an art form out of this pottery background.”

Collectors invariably gravitate to unusual forms. Within the oeuvre of Rogers’s pottery, she rarely did devil jugs, so those often achieve top prices. A devil jug onto which she inscribed religious verses realized $650 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2017 at Slotin Folk Art. Also, another jug with the same features sold at Slotin four years earlier for $900 plus the buyer’s premium. Museum of Northeast Georgia Director Anna-Louise Calliham told an Atlanta newspaper in summer 2021 in an article previewing the aforementioned exhibition that women potters often did not create devil jugs for religious reasons or to risk stirring up evil spirits. “Marie Rogers writes ‘Jesus Saves’ on the bottom of her work in case it’s ever used for nefarious purposes,” she said.

Another unusual form for Rogers was her style of jugs dubbed “swirl” pottery. “People always seem to collect what is the most unique or rare, and she occasionally would do something called a swirl, where she had two different color clays. They would swirl as she pulled them up into a face jug or a pitcher,” Slotin said. A whimsical jug two-color swirl face jug made $600 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021 at Slotin Folk Art.

This Medusa face jug, standing 13½in tall and featuring 40 snakes, sold for $700 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019. Image courtesy of Rockabilly Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.
This Medusa face jug, standing 13½in tall and featuring 40 snakes, sold for $700 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019. Image courtesy of Rockabilly Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Perhaps for their association with the temperance movement, snakes were a common motif in her work, as they were for many Southern potters. A Medusa face jug featuring 40 applied snakes brought $700 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019 at Rockabilly Auction Company.

Rogers sometimes made human figures, from Confederate soldiers to men wearing hats to choir members. While dogs and cats were infrequent subjects for her, she created many bird figurines; a grouping of 10 brought $800 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021 at Slotin Folk Art.

While best known for her face jugs, Marie Rogers also created pottery animals, such as this grouping of 10 birds that brought $800 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Slotin Folk Art and LiveAuctioneers.
While best known for her face jugs, Marie Rogers also created pottery animals, such as this grouping of 10 birds that brought $800 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Slotin Folk Art and LiveAuctioneers.

Rogers signed her works, but even if she hadn’t, Slotin stated they are instantly recognizable as hers. “When you see her work, it screams ‘Marie Rogers,’ and there’s no one who does anything close to what she was doing, because she really was just pulling for her own experience,” he said. “She was not copying anybody. She was just making it her own art form, and she did it very distinctly.”