The BMA recently acquired a rare figural vessel made by the Alabama potter John Frederick Lehman around 1870. The jug depicts an African-American man wearing a cap, hoop earrings, and a coat with broad lapels and buttons impressed with Lehman’s initials. A large buckle-like square probably surrounded a paper label for whatever product the jug contained. The Museum purchased the piece from a private individual who had discovered it in a Talladega County store nearly 45 years ago. Joey Brackner, Director of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture and author of Alabama Folk Pottery (2006), commented on the significance of the piece:
The acquisition of the John Lehman figural jug, one of only three in existence, is a testament to the commitment of the Birmingham Museum of Art to acquiring and presenting the art of the people of Alabama. Along with enslaved Edgefield potter Dave Drake, Lehman is the most well known of historical Southern potters. Lehman combined a variety of decorative techniques unusual for the Deep South with the distinctive alkaline glaze for which the region is known. He most likely came to the United States in the 1840s as a refugee of the revolutions in the German states. During his odyssey, he acquired considerable skills as a potter. Lehman’s longest tenure was in Rock Mills, Alabama, where he and his family lived and worked during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Before his death in 1883, Lehman created a series of decorated jars and jugs that have been the source of much excitement and varying interpretation.
With this most recent acquisition, the BMA now owns two of these important decorated pieces, and has secured a third as a promised gift. The collection also includes two undecorated pieces attributed to Lehman. The figural jug is now on view.