Women in American Art Pottery

Most people associate Newcomb Pottery with the women artists who defined the rich creations that bear the Newcomb markings. It was, after all, one of the biggest players in the art pottery movement in early 20th century. Like many pottery makers, Newcomb was heavily influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement. While men played the role of the actual potters, it was the women and their creativity that added the award winning artistic efforts.

In fact, the collective Newcomb curriculum was the first of its kind in the nation. It was founded by a woman, Josphine Louise Newcomb, whose financial gift was what provided the sole financing for the Louisiana college in 1886. Her goal was simple: to ensure women were afforded an education. Soon, the artistic efforts became the highlight of the college. But that was just one of the brilliant women who saw this come full circle. Sadie Irvine is known as the name behind the Newcomb designers and she’s often referred to as the foundation of the program. In fact, she was closely intertwined with the college until her death.

In the late 1800s, at the direction of Ellsworth Woodward, a talented woman from Ohio arrived to teach young women the art of pottery design. Mary Given Sheerer quickly became one of the most respected educators not only in the south, but around the nation. Her contributions to both Newcomb College and its students were many.

After half a century in operation, Newcomb employed close to 100 graduates from the program and saw 70,000 pieces of work come to life.

Arequipa Pottery

But Newcomb isn’t the only pottery company that has a distinctive feminine flair. Arequipa Pottery, which initially was a tuberculosis sanatorium in the early 1900s for women diagnosed with TB, quickly defined a new model in the medical field that combined therapeutic pottery making with the more proper medicinal techniques. Not only did it play a role in how quickly the patients recovered, but it also afforded the patients a means of paying their medical bills.

It was believed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 affected more women than men and as a result, the need for adequate medical services was soon obvious. There were no definitive medical cures at that time, aside from rest, so there were thousands who were suddenly being told to rest, relax and allow nature to take its course – but within the sanitarium since TB is contagious.

While the pottery making did wonders for these women and their states of mind, we now know that the dust surely exacerbated their conditions. This is likely the reason why the approach was in place for just 7 years. Fortunately, for those who appreciate this line of American art pottery, their is much to admire in the detailing efforts and beautiful design elements.

Arequipa Pottery and Newcomb College Pottery are just two examples of the contributions women made in the early 20th century that we still cherish and value today.

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