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Newcomb Pottery: Art of the South

Clay collected from the bayous of Louisiana, thrown and kiln fired in New Orleans...Southern artists creating ceramic masterpieces depicting Southern themes...these are what make Newcomb Pottery a true Southern art form. Established in New Orleans in 1894, the pottery emerged as a result of the English Arts and Crafts movement of the mid-19th-century. Newcomb works enjoyed critical acclaim and were exhibited worldwide garnering eight medals at International exhibitions. Today, it is considered among the most important art potteries of the early 20th-century and Newcomb pieces are highly sought after by collectors around the world.


Newcomb Pottery began as an educational enterprise of Newcomb College, which was founded in 1886 as a result of a large gift from Mrs. Josephine Louise Newcomb, the widow of a wealthy New Orleans merchant. Mrs. Newcomb established the college in the memory of her daughter, Harriot Sophie, to provide young women with the opportunity to obtain a liberal arts education. The all-female college stressed the importance of a "practical and literary" education. They hired the promising Ellsworth Woodward from the Rhode Island School of Design to develop the college's art education program.


In addition to his duties at Newcomb College, Woodward was committed to providing vocational training for his art students and founded the pottery in 1894 with financial support provided by the College. He enlisted the help of Mary Given Sheerer, a Newcomb teacher of pottery and ceramic painting. Together they established Newcomb Pottery as an experimental industry providing employment for young women, most of whom were students and graduates of Newcomb College. Newcomb Pottery became the premier pottery operation in the South with the only notable exception being George Ohr's pottery in neighboring Biloxi, Mississippi.


Based on Mary Sheerer's philosophy that no two pieces of pottery should be alike, the unique Newcomb wares depicting Southern flora and fauna became well-known in the art world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over the course of Newcomb's 50-years in operation, a total of 13 potters and 90 to 95 women artists were active participants in the pottery's commercial program producing some 70,000 distinct pieces of artwork. The women artists designed and decorated the wares and were allowed complete artistic freedom. The all-male potters were responsible for the work deemed "Sunsuitable" for women such as throwing clay, firing and glazing.


Newcomb's philosophical roots can be traced back to mid-19th-century England where growing concerns ignited by the Industrial Revolution were mounting. The Industrial Revolution had brushed aside individualism, opting for mass production and quick results. In contrast, the English Arts and Crafts movement sought to revive the concern for quality, rekindle the relationship between artist and designer and re-establish respect for the worker. With those ideals in mind, Newcomb Pottery sought to recapture artistic freedom and individualism combined with the ideals of the women's suffrage movement. The pottery strongly believed in the Arts and Crafts philosophy and never fell victim to mass production in order to meet demand. As such, Newcomb succeeded in maintaining its status as a major influence in the decorative arts industry without compromising artistic integrity.


Newcomb Pottery ceased production in 1940 due to changing artistic trends and tastes. Today the enterprise is highly regarded by both collectors and art historians. The pottery's one-of-a-kind pieces with their rich Southern heritage are true rarities and are among the most sought after art forms of the Arts and Crafts movement.


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