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.

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.

Like many southern pottery families, the Brown family encompasses a line of potters generations long. The Browns began making pottery in west-central Georgia by the mid-1800s before migrating east to the Atlanta area after the Civil War. The family spread from there to North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.

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, in the middle, was made by a member of the Brown family in North Carolina, and 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.

Date Made: 1967-1968

Maker: Brown Pottery

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: North Carolina, Arden

See more items in: Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass, Face Vessels, Cultures & Communities, Domestic Furnishings


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Ralph and Kathryn Rinzler

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1981.0287.5Accession Number: 1981.0287Catalog Number: 1981.0287.05

Object Name: Jug, Grotesquevessel, face

Physical Description: ceramic, earthenware, coarse (overall material)monochrome, brown (overall surface decoration color name)Measurements: overall: 6 5/8 in x 5 3/4 in; 16.8275 cm x 14.605 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a3-f167-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_578626

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.