Among the most recognizable of Southern pottery forms is the Edgefield face vessel. Beginning in the 1850s, these alkaline-glazed stoneware objects were reportedly made by African American potters who worked in the Edgefield District’s vast network of potteries. In contrast to the standard production items of the time—utilitarian jars, jugs, and churns—face vessels are relatively scarce.
The history of the production and use of these objects is still shrouded in mystery and controversy. They were finely turned on the potter’s wheel and their facial features were hand sculpted and applied. Ceramic scholars have put forth several working theories as to their original purposes, including that these vessels are remnants of African religious or spiritual rituals.