An Update on George E. Ohr Museum

It’s been awhile since we checked in on the progress of the George E. Ohr Museum in Biloxi, MS. As many know, there had been a significant amount of construction completed on the new building when Hurricane Katrina slammed the coast in 2005. There was nothing left. With Hurricane Isaac in the news this past week and with its landfall along the same area as Katrina, we were wondering how the museum was preparing and how the project as a whole was moving on.

George Ohr, also known as the Mad Potter of Biloxi, was eccentric in the way he lived and the way he created his art. I recently spoke with someone who is quite familiar with the legacy Ohr left behind, and while it’s not surprising, it was interesting to learn a bit more about the artist. One look at any of the available photos of him would surely have anyone think he was a bit…grumpy. Or as they say down here in the south, “an ol’ buzzard”. Of course, that’s not an insult, in fact, like many artists, he likely took pride in knowing others understood his eccentricities, no matter which adjectives were used. And it’s good for us because of the spectacular artistic bodies he left behind. Each piece is powerful, mature and quite influential, too.

Ohr died in 1918, and it wasn’t until the mid 1960s that the vast majority of his work was located. Much of it is at home in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but there’s even more that defines the permanent collections in the Ohr O’Keefe Museum of Art.

The masterpiece – and truly, that’s the only way to describe it – is right at home among the massive Antebellum homes that remain after two massive hurricanes, Camille in 1969 and, of course, Katrina in 2005. With its ultra contemporary lines and interesting dimensions, it would do Ohr proud if he could see it now. There are many exhibits that rotate year round and there are also several different areas within the museum. While the many photos on the website are spectacular, you haven’t “felt” the art until you’re standing in the middle of the museum with the salt air coming in on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s an experience, no doubt.

Currently, there are three exhibits being shown and three permanent exhibits; including, of course, many of the beautiful American art pottery pieces created by none other than the Mad Potter. If you’ve not seen the website recently, now’s a great time since the directors have added much more to it. And if you’re along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, be sure and save an afternoon for this beautiful museum – it’s time well spent.

And if you plan on going or have your own art pottery story, we’d love to hear it. Be sure to let us know on our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter, too.

“Almost a Miracle” – The Highly Anticipated Ohr-O’Keefe Museum Opens

First it was politics that kept a damper on the plans, then, after those issues had been worked out between the City Council and landowners, the plans finally got underway to build a spectacular new museum in Biloxi, MS that would showcase The Mad Potter, George Ohr and his world renowned American art pottery. It was to be a spectacular creation; and why shouldn’t it be? The international architect and Pritzker Prize winner, Frank Gehry, was behind the awe-inspiring design. Then Hurricane Katrina happened and suddenly, all of the hard work by so many was washed out into the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In a split second, it seemed the museum would never happen. But not for the resilient Gulf Coast residents and the collective determination to make it so, it might not have.

Now, though, and several years later than anyone could have every anticipated, the museum opened to all the fanfare and festivities that define the grand southern tradition. Gehry, whose work includes the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain as well as other famous designs around the world, said during the ribbon cutting ceremony last weekend, “There is a special feeling of the people here that I’ve never quite experienced before”.

And with that, the world was finally able to see what even a devastating hurricane could not prevent from happening. The doors were opened and the result? A collective sigh that was unmistakable and a very proud moment for Biloxi, American art pottery, and certainly George Ohr Pottery, and of course, all of those who worked so hard to make it happen.

If you’re ever in the Biloxi, Mississippi area, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t take a tour. It is the epitome of a “labor of love”. Courtesy of the state’s efforts to inspire tourism following Katrina, a series of videos and pressers were put together. Below, you can see a brief tour of the museum from last week. And if you do visit us down here in the south, be sure to let us know – we want to know what you think!  Also, don’t forget to become a fan of Just Art Pottery on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, too!

George Ohr Pottery Exhibit

George Ohr Rising: The Emergence of an American Master The San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts is hosting Pict4540_2 a traveling exhibit of George Ohr’s original works until June 22, 2008. The forty piece collection is on loan from the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi. The subtitle of the event, The Emergence of an American Master, refers to Ohr’s recovery from tragedy to create the most masterful work of his career. The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art experienced a similar tragedy, followed by a rebuilding period, after Hurricane Katrina partially destroyed its new building in 2005. The theme of tragedy to triumph is central to this exhibit.

George Ohr was born in Biloxi in 1857. He moved to New Orleans when a family friend offered him a job in a pottery studio, but he soon began traveling all over the United States and Canada learning more about ceramics. He returned to Biloxi to open his own studio, but his building and close to 10,000 pieces of his pottery were completely destroyed in a fire in 1894. His work after the fire was much more imaginative, and he began calling himself the “Mad Potter of Biloxi.” Because of his eccentric persona and over-the-top marketing, his work was not taken seriously until after his death. He is now considered a pioneer of modern art pottery. His work with modern forms and shapes was revolutionary.

The George Ohr Rising exhibit can be viewed at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts in San Angelo, Texas,Dsc03450  Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for senior citizens. After the George Ohr collection leaves Texas, it will travel to the Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art in Alfred, New York, where it will open October 21. There is also a George Ohr Rising virtual gallery online for those who cannot see it in person.

Additional George Ohr Pottery Resources:

Just Art Pottery

George Ohr Pottery Fakes

George Ohr is often referred to as the "mad potter of Biloxi" not only because of his eccentric personally but also due to the diversity and uniqueness of the arts and crafts pottery masterpieces he created.  George Ohr pottery is typically characterized by twisted and manipulated forms.  Dsc4685

Prices of George Ohr pottery have rapidly increased from the $50 range for small examples in the 1980s to $1,000 to $3,000 for the same example now.  Superior examples Ohr that would sell in the $2,000 price range twenty years ago now sell in the low six figure range. This rapid price appreciation has resulted in reproductions and reglazed George Ohr becoming more commonplace in the art pottery market. 

As many collectors know many of George Ohr’s later examples were intentionally left unglazed in the bisque form.  For years, many collectors thought the unglazed bisque examples were unfinished pieces.  Some time around the 1970s, many unglazed bisque examples were reglazed and sold in the retail market.  As the knowledge of the reglazed Ohr examples has become more commonplace, collector interest in the bisque examples has skyrocketed.  Dsc03450

In the January/February issue of Forbes Collector, David Rago, who is commonly recognized as the foremost authority on George Ohr Pottery, provided some key factors to look for in order to avoid the fake Ohr pieces.  These factors include:

Glazed examples with the flowing script signature.  Many of Ohr’s later pottery was unglazed and marked with the flowing script signature.  While not a hard and fast rule, one should closely examine glazed examples of Ohr with the flowing script signature. Dsc03452

Clean examples.  The reglazed fakes from the 1970s are typically very clean.  Original George Ohr pottery often is not nearly as clean.  Pict0736 Dsc4689

Dull, opaque glazes.  Ohr’s original glazes typically show a lustrous depth not typically seen on the reglazed examples.  Many of the reglazed Ohr pieces are done in red. 

Swirled clay with colored glaze.  Ohr examples produced from scroddled or swirled clay were only glazed with clear color.

Disproportionate number of reptiles.  Fake Ohr pottery is often seen with a disproportionate number of snakes.

Clean bottoms.  The majority of George Ohr pottery has glazed bottoms.  The early reproductions have clean, unglazed bottoms.  However, Rago notes later forgers have caught on to this fact.

Pinpoint stilt marks.  Authentic George Ohr pottery was fired on long, Y shaped stilts.  Typical fake Ohr examples were fired on pin stilts leaving pinpoint stilt marks.

The photos above provide examples of authentic George Ohr pottery and his marks.  If you have photo examples of any of these fake characteristics or photos of authentic marks/vases please provide them to us and they will be added to this discussion. 

Greg Myroth