Pottery Hits the Road
Owen Murphy PHOTOGRAPH
The Newcomb Art Gallery at Tulane University has partnered with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) to produce the first traveling exhibition of Newcomb Pottery in 30 years. “Women, Art, and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise” remains at the Newcomb Art Gallery at Tulane University until March 9, after which it will tour to locations including the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Ga., the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas, the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Ontario and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tenn.
The exhibit includes pottery, jewelry, metalwork, bookbinding and textiles, as well as historical artifacts, reflecting new research on Newcomb College’s revolutionary program. Tulane University’s H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College established the Newcomb Pottery enterprise in 1895 with Ellsworth Woodward, the Newcomb Art School’s first director, potter Joseph Meyer and Mary Given Sheerer, ceramics teacher and artist. “Conceived as an educational experiment and based on the philosophies and tenets of the English Arts and Crafts movement, its purpose was to provide New Orleans women who had been properly trained employment opportunities that extended beyond 19th-century convention,” exhibition curator Sally Main says. Lectures in the Women’s Department of New Orleans’ 1884 World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition encouraged women “to produce handcrafted artifacts to support themselves.”
While only men were allowed to throw pottery, women conceived of and decorated the pieces. The pottery created an identity with designs that were “evocative of the American South, inspired by Louisiana flora and crafted from local and regional clay,” says Main. Newcomb Pottery earned medals at international exhibitions and was recognized throughout the United States and abroad. The demand for pottery orders led to the development of registration markings that identified the potter, decorator and date of the piece. Graduates of the “art and industry” program, which was active until 1940, were able to earn income through the Art School’s Sales Room. During its existence, the enterprise provided full or part time employment to approximately 95 women.