Face Vessel

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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.
The earliest face vessels known to have been produced by white southern potters were probably not made until the end of the 1800s. White potters working in the Edgefield area in the mid-1800s may have seen the slave-made vessels and taken the idea with them as they moved out of South Carolina.
This jug, on the right, was made by Georgia potter Cheever Meaders (1887-1967) who produced a small number of face vessels. Although they were popular, Meaders felt that they were too much trouble to make. Meaders used pieces of broken, glazed plates for the eyes and teeth on this piece.
Starting in the 1960s, a growing interest in southern face vessels as examples of 20th-century folk art prompted collectors, historians, and cultural institutions to seek out and encourage the potters who produce them. This piece was donated to the Smithsonian by Ralph Rinzler and his wife. Working for the Smithsonian's Office of Folklife Programs, Rinzler was instrumental in the rediscovery and popularization of face vessels.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1967
Meaders, Cheever
place made
United States: Georgia, White county
Physical Description
ceramic, stoneware, coarse (overall material)
overall: 8 1/4 in x 6 15/16 in; 20.955 cm x 17.62125 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Ralph and Kathryn Rinzler
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Cultures & Communities
Domestic Furnishings
Face Vessels
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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