Face Vessel

The tradition of shaping human likenesses on ceramic vessels is thousands of years old. Face vessels held different meanings in different cultures around the world. Some were probably used in burial rituals, others satirized the person whose features were captured in clay, and still others were made just for fun.
Potters rarely signed their face vessels before the the 1920s, making attribution difficult. The maker of this face vessel, on the right, is not known. It features rough white clay to represent the teeth and eyes, much as the slave-made pieces used kaolin pieces.
This face vessel, on the right, came to the Museum as part of the Van Alstyne Collection of American Folk Art. Eleanor and Mabel Van Alstyne collected more than 300 examples of American folk art over a period of about 40 years.
Currently not on view
Currently not on view
Object Name
vessel, face
date made
late 1800s-early 1900s
Date made
c. 1850-1860
Physical Description
stoneware (overall material)
base: 1 3/4 in x 5 1/8 in x 5 1/2 in; 4.445 cm x 13.0175 cm x 13.97 cm
overall: 7 3/4 in x 5 13/16 in; 19.685 cm x 14.81658 cm
overall face vessel: 8 in x 5 3/4 in x 5 7/8 in; 20.32 cm x 14.605 cm x 14.9225 cm
overall: 8 in x 5 in x 5 1/2 in; 20.32 cm x 12.7 cm x 13.97 cm
place made
United States
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Domestic Furnishings
Cultures & Communities
Face Vessels
Art Pottery
African American
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Face Vessels
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
The Eleanor and Mabel Van Alstyne Collection of American Folk Art
Additional Media

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