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Water Container

A work made of blackened terracotta.

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  • A work made of blackened terracotta.


Early/mid–20th century


Coastal West Africa

About this artwork

Gwari women make pottery in family groups, with daughters learning from their mothers and continuing their craft when they move to their husbands’ compounds. In form and technique Gwari ceramics are related to those of their eastern Nupe neighbors. Potters use the direct pull method, punching down into a lump of clay and then pulling up diagonally with their fingers to form the vessel’s sides, adding coils if a larger size is desired. A potter may use a makeshift turntable to help form a small pot; she will fashion a large one, however, by walking steadily backwards around the piece, dragging one foot to maintain her balance and at times changing direction to avoid dizziness.

Water containers such as this small, classic example are plump-bellied with short, slightly narrowed necks and flared lips. They are decorated with incising and roulette patterns that showcase the sure-handed drawing skills of the maker. Gwari potters incise their wares with a blade that cuts neatly through the coarse clay, producing straight or slightly curved lines that contrast with the roundness of the pot. Here a series of horizontal lines encircles the vessel’s neck in regular intervals, while vertical bands–alternating between straight and elliptical in shape and between smoothly burnished and rough in texture–embellish its body. On one side the potter rendered a stylized lizard at an impromptu angle, decorating it with crisscrossing lines. The lizard is one of several animal motifs that Gwari potters form the village of Kwale use on a regular basis. This container’s dark color results form a solution of locust tree pods that was applied to the red-hot vessel immediately upon its removal from the fire. The coating also helps make the pot watertight.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa




Water Container


Nigeria (Object made in)


Made 1900–1950


Blackened terracotta


22.9 × 26.7 cm (9 × 10 1/2 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.


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