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.

The Arts and Crafts Movement in America

Most of us know the history of our favorite art pottery company; for those invested collectors, they can likely retell a particular company’s history from the moment it was founded. It’s the general history where some might disagree. For instance, the Crystal Palace Exposition in 1851 is cited by many as the “birth” of the movement towards art pottery in the U.S. The Louisiana State Museum agrees:

The reform movement took shape after the first ever international exhibition, the 1851 Crystal Palace Exposition in London. Toward this end, institutions were established to teach principles of good design. The Arts and Crafts movement roared into American cities through new educational programs, international fairs, lectures and writings. The National Art Training Schools program was launched in South Kensington in 1852…and several potteries took advantage of the talented students and formed cooperative efforts in the 1860’s and 1870’s.

Before long, the “women’s movement” was in high gear. There were what the museum refers to as “English training programs” that were developed specifically to assist women in learning a trade or craft that would allow them to “make an

Collection of Roseville Baneda

honorable living”. Of course, Newcomb College was one of the first – and in contemporary society, one of the most well-known, programs. The New York Society of Decorative Art was also a popular choice for women who were in that area of the country.

The goal, of course, was to ensure a bit of independence, even if it wasn’t officially cited as a reason. The education and earnings opportunities were an added bonus, especially considering what lie ahead in the upcoming years – the financial crisis on the late 1920s which led to the Great Depression and, of course, World Wars I and II. Women soon had made a significant mark on the collective American art pottery scene.

In late 1884, the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition made its way to New Orleans, which was also considered part of the arts and crafts movement. Soon, Tulane University was offering free evening and Saturday courses for would-be potters. It would have been the educational resource for more than five thousand people – mostly women, but some men – over a ten year period. Interestingly, women’s art classes were offered twice a week – but only to women – as part of the Tulane Decorative Art League. Men who enrolled in any of these courses most often chose wood carving or metal work as they left the more artistic aspects to the women.

If you’ve not toured the Louisiana State Museum, there’s a website that offers the next best thing. It offers many historical records, old photographs and images that define the American art pottery movement. Fair warning – expect to be drawn in and don’t be surprised if you realize you’ve been exploring the virtual museum for a couple of hours. It’s also a fine educational resource for the little ones, too.