Southern Influences on American Art Pottery

Most people equate American art pottery with those names from Ohio – Roseville Pottery, Rookwood Pottery, Weller, Owens, Zanesville Stoneware and even McCoy. When you think of southern influences, it’s likely the first, and perhaps only, pottery maker that comes to mind is Newcomb Pottery, created at Newcomb College in New Orleans. But there’s far more to be loved and appreciated from artists of the south. Some say you can smell the salt air in each piece as much of it was made along the Gulf Coast, including both Newcomb Pottery and, of course, those incredible, though eclectic, creations that bore George Ohr’s mark.

Nashville Art Pottery created an avenue or stage for students in the Nashville School of Art. Headed by Bettie J. Scovel, who’d

Newcomb Pottery (courtesy of Getty Images)

Newcomb Pottery (courtesy of Getty Images)

been trained by some of the best of the best Rookwood artists, she returned to her Nashville roots in order to share her love of clay and the magic that comes when an artist’s hands shape the clay into something spectacular. It was the late 1880s and upon her return, she quickly secured what was then known as the McGavock building and set out to bring the artists alive inside her students. Before the decade was up, there would be two lines of Nashville Art Pottery released, including Goldstone and Pomegranate. Both were high fired wares, though Goldstone was notably darker with rich browns and deep red hues while its counterpart, Pomegranate, included lighter colors, including a typical white base with pink and blue elements. Unfortunately, Nashville Pottery didn’t become as well-known as those in Ohio, but the fruits of hers and her students’ hard work can be found in Trumbull Prime Collection of The Art Museum at Princeton University.

Around this same time, George Ohr, the famous Biloxi, Mississippi artist, and Joseph Meyer (yes, that Joseph Meyer) decided to fill a void left by the bankrupt Louisiana Porcelain Works in New Orleans. They created New Orleans Art Pottery. The building they chose was an impressive three stories. Soon, the two artists secured the necessary kiln and began producing, for a very brief time, their version of porcelain ware. Unfortunately, there wasn’t room enough for New Orleans Pottery and the exciting new Newcomb Pottery, so its contribution was quite limited. Before long, Meyer would find his way to Newcomb Pottery, where he left his life’s work for many future generations to admire.

From Ohr to Meyer to Scovel – and many more, the south was the birthplace for beautiful American art pottery designs.

Brouwer Pottery

While it’s not one of the most well known lines of American art pottery, Brouwer Pottery has an important place in history. If you’re familiar with George Ohr pottery, you know his pieces are often quite intense, which, according to everything known about the Mississippi artist, isn’t surprising considering it mirrored his personality.

Brouwer Pottery is most often compared to that same intensity. In fact, some art pottery experts say Brouwer Pottery is an “acquired taste”. Maybe so, but for those who can appreciate the eclectic presentation, it truly is magnificent.

Theophilus Brouwer invented the open kiln glazing method. If you’re not familiar with this particular process, it includes metal tongs that were placed in the pieces as they were being fired. It became known as “fire painting” and the results are stunning. There are so many hues and color variations that come to life during this process that these artistic efforts are easy to recognize even today. Not only that but Brouwer made his own molds and did all of the casting.

Unlike other lines of American art pottery, damage isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for collectors and often isn’t a factor when it comes to the value. The stunning glaze more than makes up for small nicks, which is a good thing since the firing process didn’t bode well for hardening the pieces. That said, some believe the lighter colors consistently lacked vibrancy and as a result, were under appreciated – both then and now.

This is interesting considering some of those pieces are valued upwards of $10,000. Of course, pieces can still be found for less than $1000. The ease in which damage can be done to these pieces means those with no nicks or damage at all will likely continue to increase in the coming years.

There are plenty of stories about the eccentricities of the talent behind the pottery line and, like Ohr’s pottery, those who do know the backstory are that much more drawn to this pottery collection.

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.

The Unusual Faces in American Art Pottery

Most of us think beautiful florals, dramatic etching efforts and stunning glazes when discussing American art pottery. But this art form isn’t without its unusual pieces.

The Faces in Art Pottery

Art pottery is defined by numerous companies and artists, each of whom brought their own unique take on this line of art. Many artists mastered the beauty of detailed florals, others were experts in glaze lines and shapes. There were those rebels, however, that brought to the table anything but a “flowery” finished look. Many think of George Ohr whenever “rebel” and “art pottery” are used in the same sentence. But there were other streaks of eclectic lines that dot the landscape. Think faces and busts. They’re all quite dramatic and always the conversation piece of any collection.

Weller Dickens Ware, 2nd Line

It’s difficult to find the right adjectives to describe many of the pieces in this line of Weller Pottery. Unusual, exciting and some might say a bit disturbing; not that “disturbing” is used in an insulting manner, it’s just that the tobacco jars that take the shape of very detailed men’s faces can be a bit offsetting.

“The Skull”, as one of the Weller Pottery tobacco jars is called, has no eyes, though appears to be smiling. It can be a bit of a jolt. It’s believed there are three in existence and their value goes up considerably if you come across one with a finial that is a miniature skull. Another interesting face or bust is found in “The Turk”. The detail is very life-like with a permanent snarl on the fellow’s face, deep-set eyes and flared nose. The dark gloss adds to the dramatic presentation.

Also in this line you’ll find “The Irishman”. Most likely, there exists an “R.D.” as the signature. This guy has an upturned nose, heavy eyelids, lines around his mouth and thick eyebrows. Let’s just say he’d make a fine addition to your Halloween décor – as long as you keep him in a safe place as his value is considerable.

This is just one line of many that include very detailed faces. It speaks volumes of the talent these artists possessed and talent that they were willing to pour into their creations, unlike many of the manufactured pieces we see in a more contemporary society. To know the history of these Weller pottery pieces is to love them.

If you haven’t visited our Facebook page, be sure to like us and while you’re at, check out our Just Art Pottery Roseville page, too.

The Ninth Annual George Ohr Gala

ohr

Fans of the eclectic – and sometimes mysterious – George Ohr are making plans to hit the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast for the Ninth Annual George Ohr Gala. The event is hosted this year by the breathtaking and recently rebuilt Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Miss. As many of you know, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August, 2005, it annihilated both the Beau Rivage and the considerable work that had already been completed to the new George Ohr museum. Since then, almost superhuman efforts have been made to get both restored to their original beauty. It’s been a fascinating journey and an impressive and newly produced video will chronicle the years of the Ohr Museum and the Mad Potter himself, George Ohr.

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