Newcomb Pottery through the years exhibition photos
Newcomb Pottery through the years exhibition photos

Newcomb Pottery was an American pottery that was located in New Orleans. Its artistic quality was the first and perhaps most notable appeal of Newcomb pottery ware. This is fair because it originated in an art school.

History

At the turn of the twentieth century, few social phenomena were more striking than the growth of the art. The United States was beginning to awaken to the importance of art as part of its economy. Under the direction of Professor Ellsworth Woodward, Newcomb was the first schools to realize it must abandon the exclusive traditional course in “fine art.”

William and Ellsworth Woodward 

William Woodward, who had trained at the Massachusetts Normal Art School and Rhode Island School of Design, was the first art instructor at Tulane University in New Orleans. He held evening and Saturday classes in the decorative arts and drawings. 

His brother Ellsworth Woodward formed the Tulane Decorative Arts League, a group of about 30 women interested in handicrafts. In 1886, the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College for women was founded by Tulane University. In 1887, Ellsworth Woodward became head of its art program and was joined by William Woodward and Gertrude Roberts (later Smith). 

Woodward and students worked in Pottery.

Between c1887-90, William Woodward and a small number of his evening-class students operated the New Orleans Art Pottery, joined briefly by George E. Ohr, already an established potter in Biloxi, Mississippi.

A plate with a border of flowering cactus, from about 1903, in an exhibition at Tulane.Credit...Owen Murphy
A plate with a border of flowering cactus, from about 1903, in an exhibition at Tulane.Credit…Owen Murphy

Ellsworth Woodward set up a pottery on the college grounds in 1894. The school converted an old shop into a pottery shop with one kiln, potter’s wheels and all the equipment needed for potting.

Mary Given Sheerer, an accomplished china painter from Cincinnati, Ohio, became Ellsworth’s assistant and began teaching china painting and pottery design. She remained at the pottery until 1931. 

Testing of clays and glazes

Clays and glazes were tested during Newcomb College Pottery’s first year. Most of the clays early on came from Bayou Bogufalaya; others, mixed at Newcomb, elsewhere in the South. To keep the lessons on a going and developing basis, the workers must find it profitable. The college began paying for the product and shouldering the responsibility for disposing of it.

Vase, 1897. Daffodil design Newcomb Pottery Vase - Smithsonian
Vase, 1897. Daffodil design Newcomb Pottery Vase – Smithsonian

International Teachers

From Clément Messier’s Golfe Juan Pottery in France, Jules Gabry taught at the school for a year, succeeded by George Wasmuth, who also stayed only briefly.

1896-1927, Joseph Fortune Meyer held the potter’s job. As at Rookwood, Newcomb had women design and produce the decorations while men potted, fired and glazed. The Newcomb Pottery was intended to provide continuing education to graduates of the art school. Undergraduate decorators were used at first; later, some ten graduate women were hired. During the pottery’s history, about 90 ‘art craftsmen’ or decorators maintained high quality. 

Exhibitions

The first public exhibition and sale of Newcomb Pottery produce was held in 1896. Newcomb Pottery received a bronze medal at the 1900 Paris ‘Exposition Universelle.’

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Henzke, L. (1970). American art pottery. T. Nelson.

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