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American Face Vessels

Photo of Face Vessels

OBJECT NAME: Face Vessels
MATERIAL: Alkaline-glazed Stoneware
MAKER: Attributed to Black Slave Potters
LOCATION OF MANUFACTURE: Edgefield District, South Carolina
DIMENSIONS: 5" High X 3" Wide
CATALOG NUMBERS: 324313 AND 324314; Negative number 92-16903
ACQUISITION INFORMATION: From the Estate of Mary Elizabeth Sinnott

DESCRIPTION: Two small stoneware jugs modeled in the shape of human faces. The jugs are covered with a mottled, dark green alkaline glaze. Unglazed kaolin is used to form eyes and teeth.

HISTORY: This distinctive type of ceramic face vessel first appeared in the American South in the mid-1800s. Jugs such as these are attributed to a small number of Black slaves working as potters in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. None of these skilled potters have been identified by name and their inspiration for making face vessels is unknown. Scholars speculate that the vessels may have had religious or burial significance, or that they reflect the complex responses of people attempting to live and maintain their personal identities under harsh conditions.

Information or research assistance regarding American face vessels is frequently requested from the Smithsonian Institution. The following selected bibliography has been prepared to assist those interested in this topic.

Baldwin, Cinda K. "Edgefield Face Vessels: African-American Contributions to American Folk Art." In American Visions: The Magazine of Afro-American Culture, Volume 5, Number 4. Washington, DC: Visions Foundation, 1990, pp.16-20.

_____. Great & Noble Jar: Traditional Stoneware of South Carolina. Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina, 1993.

Barber, Edwin A. "Some Curious Old Water Coolers Made in America." In The Clay-Worker, November, 1900, pp. 352-53.

Burrison, John A. "Afro-American Folk Pottery in the South." In Southern Folklore Quarterly, Volume 42, Nos. 2 and 3. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, Department of English, 1978.

_____. Brothers in Clay: The Story of Georgia Folk Pottery. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1983.

_____. "Georgia clay: The Story of Georgia Folk Pottery." Studio Potter. v. 18, Dec. 1989, p. 45-52.

Ferrell, Stephen and T.M. Ferrell. Early Decorated Stoneware of the Edgefield District, South Carolina. Greenville, SC: Greenville County Museum of Art, 1976. Exhibition catalog.

Ferris, William, ed. Afro-American Folk Arts and Crafts. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1983.

Fine, Elsa Honig. The Afro-American Artist: A Search For Identity. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1973.

Georgia Council for the Arts and Humanities. Missing Pieces: Georgia Folk Art 1770-1976. Atlanta: Georgia Council for the Arts and Humanities, 1976. Catalog of an exhibition organized by Anna Wadsworth.

Hall, Michael D. "Brother=s Keeper: Some Research on American Face Vessels and Some Conjecture on the Cultural Witness of Folk Potters in the New World." In Stereoscopic Perspective: Reflections on American Fine Art and Folk Art. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1988.

Hewitt, Mark. "Stuck in the Mud: The Folk Pottery of North Carolina." Ceramic Review. v. no.151, Jan./Feb. 1995, p. 30-3.

Horne, Catherine Wilson, ed. Crossroads of Clay: The Southern Alkaline-Glazed Stoneware Tradition. Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina, 1990.

Lewis, Samella. Art: African American. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1978.

Peek, Phil. "Afro-American Material Culture and the Afro-American Craftsman." In Southern Folklore Quarterly, Volume 42, Nos. 2 and 3. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, Department of English, 1978.

Perry, Regina. "Face Vessels: Black American Folk Tradition." In Research in Action. Richmond, VA: Virginia Commonwealth University, Summer 1984, pp. 12-17.

Sweezy, Nancy. Raised in Clay: The Southern Folk Pottery Tradition. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984

Thompson, Robert Farris. "African Influence on the Art of the United States." In Black Studies in the University, A Symposium. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969, pp.122-170.

Vlach, John Michael. "Arrival and Survival: the Maintenance of an Afro-American Tradition in Folk Art and Craft." In Perspectives on American Folk Art, ed. By Ian M.G. Quimby & Scott T. Swank. New York, Published for the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE: Norton, 1980, pp. 177-217.

_____. The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1978. Exhibition catalog.

Zug, Charles III. Turners and Burners: The Folk Potters of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

_____. "Burlon Craig." Ceramics Monthly. v. 42, Nov. 1994, p. 38-44.

92-16903.jpg (165183 bytes)

Face Vessels, Stoneware, United States, 19th and 20th century, Makers unknown.
Negative number 92-16905.
From the Eleanor and Mabel Van Alstyne Collection of American Folk Art


Prepared by the Division of Home and Community Life,
Ceramics Collections, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services,
Smithsonian Institution

Revised 10/00


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