Skip to Content
Closed now, next open Thursday. Closed now, next open Thursday.

Water Container

A work made of terracotta and pigment.

Image actions

  • A work made of terracotta and pigment.


Early/mid–20th century


Vicinity of Niamey, Niger
Northern Africa and the Sahel

About this artwork

The urnlike form and intricately painted geometric patterns of Jerma water containers are rarely seen south of the Sahara and suggest historic links with North Africa. The designs, closely related to those found on Jerma textiles, are applied after a pot has been fired, and are made using natural pigments such as iron oxide, kaolin, laterite, ochre, and soot. Because these fleeting colors wear off over time, a valued container may be repainted periodically by its owner. This elegant vessel displays a long neck that is emphasized by the vertical stripes that descend its length, while the indrawn waist and curving body are complemented by patterns of triangles and horizontal bands.

The Niger River passes through the country of Niger far to the southwest, creating a fertile plain at the edge of the Sahara Desert. Despite the river’s abundance, agriculture can be a tenuous activity. In such surroundings, it is not surprising that the task of collecting and storing water is of critical importance. The Jerma, who arrived in the region in the sixteenth century as exiles fleeing the Moroccan conquest of the Songhay Empire, are widely known for their gracefully shaped, delicately painted water containers of various sizes. They remain closely related to the Songhay in language and culture, and, like the Songhay, Jerma potters use a concave mold technique to form the lower portion of a vessel, completing the upper sections with coils. Also, like the Songhay and many other peoples living along the Middle Niger, the Jerma regard pottery as a closed, hereditary profession that is closely aligned with ironworking villages from their non-potter neighbors, such as Saga, near Niamey. [See also 2005.224].


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa




Water Container




Made 1900–1950


Terracotta and pigment


50.2 × 34.9 cm (19 3/4 × 13 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Keith Achepohl

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions