Kate Johnston (NC)
I chose a ‘jug’ form in the American vernacular sense. It’s not a serving pot with a spout, like the piece from Lambeth, but rather a wide-based narrow-necked storage and transport vessel that wouldn’t suggest pouring except for the handle. This particular jug form is produced from glass for the Carlo Rossi wine brand, which is cheap and thus attractive to those who are looking for quantity. The followers of Dionysus/Bacchus were noted for their unrestrained consumption of alcohol and so Carlo Rossi wine seemed appropriate for a contemporary version.
Rather than attempt to distinguish Bacchus from Dionysus in my piece, which are generally regarded as interchangeable in their cultural function, I decided to make a female counterpart for my subject. Mythological figures don’t usually have a particular visage; they must be identified by the symbols surrounding them. Bacchus can be recognized due to the raw ingredients for fermenting on the 1783 jug. His female followers (bacchantes) or Dionysus’ (maenads) have certain distinguishing motifs. These drunken lady revelers are depicted with wreaths or snakes in their hair, carrying an ivy-covered staff, wine cup, or animal for sacrifice.
Dionysus/Bacchus is not merely a god of fermentation, wine, and merriment. Like a mean drunk, he is dangerous and unpredictable. His maenads sow chaos and fear. They show grim agency by carrying around the carcasses of sacrificial animals they have slaughtered with their bare hands. The ritual madness reached by intoxication begins with unselfconscious dancing around a fire, but it ends in violence.
Modern people can appreciate the double nature of Bacchus. The relationship between women and alcohol has been historically tense in the USA. Despite lacking the right to vote, women were instrumental in Prohibition. They viewed bars as places where husbands and fathers became intoxicated and violent, wasted precious money on drinks and gambling, and had access to prostitutes. Inebriation was, as so many things, an activity reserved for men. It wasn’t until women’s suffrage was passed and the speakeasies of the flapper era were commonplace that women imbibing publically became more acceptable. But the Prohibition Era women had a point. According to statics from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 40% of child abuse cases and 65% of spousal abuse cases cite alcohol as a factor. A staggering 90% of sexual assault reports on US college campuses involve alcohol. While, of course, these statics don’t break down gender and orientation, we do know female victims are disproportionately targeted. Alcohol use in society presents more poignant dangers to women, and probably always has.
The dual nature of drinking has been on my mind during this project. The wildly negative influence of alcohol on society is undeniable and is broadly supported with data going back decades. But how can we measure its positive function as a social lubricant? How many friendships were born from the ease of speech a drink offers? How many raucous, unforgettable nights?
My piece for this exhibition is decorated with sprig formed industrial-style wine bottles and modern stemware wine glasses. The bottom layer of decoration has upright wine bottles and glasses stacked as though they haven’t been used yet. The mid-section cups are set at angles, some upside-down as though they are tumbling and falling. A grapevine with leaves and ripe fruit encircles the neck of the jug. The primary focus is a maenad with long flowing hair and an elaborate flower crown. She is surrounded by a swirl of grape leaves on the flattened shoulder of the jug where the product label should be. The maenad’s eyes are closed against the chaos around her. Alcohol’s effects are specific and personal--it can give us relief from our demons or it can let them out.
Kate Johnston, 2017. Seagrove, NC. H. 8"
This is the piece Kate created for THE LAST DROP: INTOXICATING POTTERY, PAST AND PRESENT.
Lambeth, England, dated 1783. Modeled by Robert Brettingham de Carle. Salt-glazed stoneware. Chipstone Foundation. 2005.2. H. 8 ¾”
This is the historical piece from which Kate chose to draw inspiration.