Grandma's African coin pot (large, hand coiled, six unique faces)

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Post by playswithmud June 26th 2021, 4:11 pm

Hi everyone, thanks for letting me join your awesome forum! I was hoping to get a bit of advise on what to do when you feel like you've exhausted every resource imaginable trying to identify a piece of pottery. This piece belongs to my grandmother who purchased it when she lived in Salem Oregon almost forty years ago. Unfortunately my grandma is in the later stages of dementia so it's next to impossible for her to remember anything about it. I have tried reaching out to museums, art galleries, and artists with similar styles but have come up empty every time. I have talked to pottery appraisers and well known pottery auctions houses and nobody has a clue as to where it came from. I even asked a US studio pottery identification group on facebook that has over 13,000 members and no one has seen anything like it. I have gone over every inch of it and have found zero markings of any kind. The piece is about 24" in height and as far as I know it's named "many faces". I truly feel a piece this unique warrants the time and effort I've spent trying to find even the smallest amount of information on it. Thanks to the group for any insight you may be able to provide. Take care. (sorry if the images are too large)

Grandma's African coin pot (large, hand coiled, six unique faces) Many_f10
Grandma's African coin pot (large, hand coiled, six unique faces) Many_f12
Grandma's African coin pot (large, hand coiled, six unique faces) Many_f11


Last edited by playswithmud on June 26th 2021, 4:47 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Post by playswithmud June 26th 2021, 4:12 pm

Grandma's African coin pot (large, hand coiled, six unique faces) Many_f13
Grandma's African coin pot (large, hand coiled, six unique faces) Many_f15
Grandma's African coin pot (large, hand coiled, six unique faces) Many_f14
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Post by dantheman June 26th 2021, 5:37 pm

it is a high-quality piece but the lack of a maker's mark will make it very difficult to identity

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Post by dantheman June 26th 2021, 5:38 pm

I would take a magnifying glass and check for maker;s marks

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Post by philpot June 26th 2021, 8:07 pm

From the base and top it is originally a very well wheel thrown stoneware large lidded pot. The lid has been cut like that before firing, as would have the sgrafitto decoration been made. From the look of the undecorated side it suggests it has been wood fired. That is not a process that usually happens in the middle of a densely populated city!
The rest of the decoration, and the faces have then been applied and it has been re-fired. Probably several times.
From there perhaps one possibly needs to be a bit more speculative. Are those faces of African looking origin? The pot possibly looks somewhat African in feel. Equally one has got to think of what purpose? There is a great deal of work gone into this pot. A statement piece? A presentation piece? A specific gift?
Why 6 faces? Why looking the way they are? Why the decorative holes in the top? How old is it?
What was the general opinion of the people who you showed it to? As a piece of Ceramic Art it might did it split people's opinion? And why?
Questions.... Questions!

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Post by NaomiM June 26th 2021, 8:40 pm

Looks African, or Western by an African potter. May be based on a drum design. Have you tried tapping it to see if it plays?

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Post by 22 Crawford St. June 26th 2021, 9:24 pm

I think it's relatively modern. I would suggest a 1970s date. The faces are too accurate and correct for an old piece. They look like they have ben cast from real people, eyes are closed. The top is the best bit for me.
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Post by playswithmud June 27th 2021, 3:22 am

dantheman - that's what I've been running into. It's hard to believe someone would create something like this without leaving their mark on it.

philpot - Thank you for such an insightful reply! Some of the things you said about the top and bottom being split and it most likely being wood fired is truly fascinating! The general consensus of those who have seen it has all been "wow it's amazing, but we really have no idea." That's why I'm hoping that someone will stumble across this thread in time who possibly has seen something similar. Time will tell.

NaomiM - I have tapped on the top a few times and it's doesn't seem to possess any acoustic properties. Thanks for the idea though!

Crawford St. - My grandmother bought it in the early 80's so the time frame you where thinking it was created in is probably accurate.
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Post by playswithmud July 1st 2021, 3:32 pm

As an update I had an online appraisal done hoping it would be able to shed some light on finding out the artist. They said it was for sure an African American incense burner because of the holes in the top. Does this sound right to anyone else? I was pretty disappointed with the report they provided overall.
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Post by dantheman July 1st 2021, 3:52 pm

I would not have paid them for that

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Post by NaomiM July 1st 2021, 4:19 pm

Oh dear Grandma's African coin pot (large, hand coiled, six unique faces) 1f601 . Maybe try the ceramics colleges like Archie Bray and see if it's an ex-alumni.
Also worth asking curators at some of the museums and universities -

https://libarts.source.colostate.edu/vessels-of-history-present-and-future-collaboration-demonstrates-the-importance-of-pottery-at-csu/

https://www.amoca.org/members/exhibitions/new-acquisitions-armstrong/photos/


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Post by studio-pots July 1st 2021, 6:43 pm

The stoneware ware body tells me that it was not made in Africa and so the African/American attribution is what I would have said. Living in the UK, I would not be able to say anything else, as I haven't seen anything here or in Europe like it but Naomi's suggestions seem a way forward.

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Post by playswithmud July 2nd 2021, 12:08 am

NaomiM - Thank you for those links!! They both look like very good directions to ask questions. Someone out there has to know something about it. I won't give up searching that's for sure.
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