We all know how it feels when a piece of art hits home—inspiring a feeling of connection or jaw-dropping awe. This was the case for Susan and Michael Hershfield when they came across Jim McDowell (aka the Black Potter) and his face jugs. Jim has been making face jugs for over 35 years, always in the tradition of his African American and Caribbean ancestry. He says of his work, “My face jugs are ugly because slavery was ugly.” To learn more about Jim and his practice, listen to his episode on the Artsville podcast here.
The story of how the Hershfields found Jim and his work is captivating—as it seems as if they were destined to come across his art. This three-part story will take you through the process of collecting from the fateful start to the end, where Jim’s face jug finds a home at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. We’ll hear from Susan Hershfield, the collector and donor; Marshall Price, the chief curator at the Nasher Museum; and Jim McDowell, the artist. First, we’ll start with Susan Hershfield’s backstory on how she was introduced to Jim McDowell’s art and the steps that followed.
From Susan Hershfield; Art Collector
My primary motivation was to help [Jim McDowell] get his work on a bigger stage. The collaboration was a big win for the Nasher, too!
Our gift to the Nasher to purchase a Jim McDowell face jug would never have happened without an art shipper from Texas. This summer two men came to our house in Durham to pick up a Deborah Roberts painting for an exhibition at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio. He told of going to the studio of a Black potter in the mountains of North Carolina to pick up two face jugs for a New York museum exhibition. He couldn’t recall the artist’s name so I jumped on Google and discovered he was Jim McDowell, the same potter whose work my childhood friend Louise Glickman was showing at Artsville Collective in Asheville’s River Arts District.
After listening to Jim tell his amazing stories on Louise’s [Artsville Podcast] I asked how we could see his work. Louise put us on FaceTime from her gallery in Asheville. [My husband] Michael and I were completely taken by one particular face jug [titled “Door of No Return”] that we selected for our home.
I hoped the Nasher might be interested in owning one of Jim’s face jugs and contacted Marshall Price, chief curator of contemporary art. I sent Marshall Jim’s podcast and other information, including inclusion of one of Jim’s face jugs in the catalog for a recent show of Black Civil War potters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Marshall did his own research, met with Jim on Zoom several times, and chose a piece that Jim was about to fire for the Nasher. Marshall made the drive to Weaverville in early December 2022 to be on hand when Jim opened his kiln.
About the Nasher’s Collections
Since opening in 2005, the Nasher Museum has been dedicated to building a groundbreaking collection of contemporary art. In this effort, the museum recognizes and supports global artists of extraordinary vision, whose works spark opportunities for deep and thoughtful engagement. The Nasher’s collecting strategy emphasizes works by diverse artists who have been historically underrepresented, or even excluded, by mainstream arts institutions, and maintains a particular focus on artists of African descent. This strategy also includes work by emerging artists, self-taught artists, and outstanding work by artists who live in North Carolina and the South who contribute to the surrounding creative community. To learn more, please click here.