Ceramic, container


20th Century


West Africa, Burkina Faso
Gurunsi, Nouna potter


23 1/2 x 22 in. (59.7 x 55.9 cm)

Object Number



In West African residential compounds, large water jars are placed prominently under a tree, or on the veranda of the home, where they are easily accessible for serving visitors a cup of cool water. As objects on public display, water jars are enhanced with incised lines, impressed textured surfaces and smooth burnished surfaces. Older examples will often have an animal shape --- snake, turtle, lizard, or as on this jar, crocodile --- molded onto their upper parts. Today, many African women prefer to cook with more durable metal containers. However, the preferred water jar is still made of clay because of its ability to keep liquids cool. Gurunsi potters use molds to form the lower portion of their water jars. These molds are old pots that have cracked and are no longer suitable for use, but have a nice shape. The potter flattens a ball of clay into a pancake shape, places it over the convex mold, and gently compresses the clay, working it outward to the edges of the mold. Once the pot has dried enough to support itself, it is removed from the mold. The walls are then built up with coils of clay and finished with a rim. Textured patterns are impressed into the lower portion of the vessel using a roulette of woven fibers or a corncob. Breaking up the surface creates a more resilient pot that will withstand the thermal shock of firing and years of constant use.

Credit Line

Anonymous gift


Spirited Vessels: Creation and Ritual in African Ceramics, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 7 - April 11, 2004
MCCM Newsletter, December 2003 - February 2004.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2006.
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On View



“Vessel,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed December 14, 2018,

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