2016 Sunset Report

OLG & DCRT Strategic Plan
2020-21 through 2024-25


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Table of Contents Section 1 Section 2 Section 3 Section 4 Selected Bibliography

The Arts and Crafts Movement in New Orleans
The Arts and Crafts movement came to New Orleans via the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in 1884, held at what in now the site of Audubon Park.

Northern suffragette Julia Ward Howe organized the women’s department of the Exposition which sponsored lectures, classes and exhibitions. Visitors were bombarded with displays of pottery, needlework, wallpaper, fabrics, carpets and furniture sent by, among others, the Massachusetts Normal Art School, and the Rhode Island and Cincinnati Schools of Design.

At the beginning of the Exposition, William Woodward was an instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design and had organized successful art classes in several suburban Providence communities. Tulane University President William Johnston, seeking a faculty member versed in both art and architecture, recruited Woodward. Hired in 1884 as Tulane’s’ first art instructor, Woodward’s inaugural assignment was to attract students to Tulane by teaching drawing at the Cotton Centennial.

Prompted by the success of the event’s art programs, President Johntson decided to continue Woodward’s popular classes immediately following the closing of the Exposition. In fact, Tulane’s other art instructors, Ellsworth Woodward and Gertrude Roberts Smith, also participated as teachers in the community effort. In ten years, nearly 5,000 men and women enrolled in the free evening and Saturday courses. William Woodward, always an advocate of the Arts and Crafts movement, used the words of John Ruskin to advertise the classes in an 1888 brochure.

Tulane University Decorative Art League / The New Orleans Art Pottery
As part of the Tulane University free classes, women’s decorative art courses were taught two night per week. The Tulane Decorative Art League was an outgrowth of these classes. Under the auspices of Ellsworth Woodward, the League offered instruction in art pottery, woodcarving, fresco, metalwork and needlework. Although very few objects have been identified as products of these courses, several rosewood boxes both inlaid and overlain with cut sheet brass have descended in families of the decorative arts students. These boxes are believed to be the earliest surviving examples of Arts and Crafts manufacture in Louisiana.

The important though short-lived predecessor of Newcomb Pottery was also formed by members of the Tulane University Decorative Art League. Organized under William Woodward’s direction in 1888, The New Orleans Art Pottery was one of the first in the United States. Established just 8 years after Rookwood, it preceded the resurrected Chelsea art pottery by 3 years and the Grueby Faience Company by 7 years. Both Joseph Meyer, the potter who threw the majority of pots at Newcomb for thirty years, and his childhood friend, the eccentric George Ohr, turned pots for the Baronne Street works. The workshop produced jardinieres and vases, the women decorators often sculpting and applying exuberant dragon, shell or foliage motifs. Very few of the creative, but porous-bodied and low-fired utilitarian pieces survived. Although the pottery was sold to clients in Boston, New York and Chicago, the New Orleans Art Pottery was not a financial success and closed sometime in the 1890's.

Ellsworth Woodward
G. Moses & Son
Loaned by the Newcomb Foundation
Photoprint mounted on board

Ellsworth Woodward
Watercolor on board

The Establishment of Newcomb Pottery
In 1886 Josephine Louise Newcomb made a gift to Tulane University to establish the nation’s first coordinate women’s school, the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial School, named for the widow’s deceased daughter.

Ellsworth Woodward was hired to head the art department. Distressed to find no opportunity in the agrarian South for his students to apply their fine arts training upon graduation, Woodward committed to create a respectable means of employment for his proteges. The "experiment" he chose, an art pottery, proved to be an artistic, social and commercial success for several decades.

The driving forces behind the Newcomb College pottery were products of the early Arts and Crafts Schools. Art department chairman Ellsworth Woodward attended the Rhode Island School of Design, art instructor Gertrude Roberts Smith graduated from the Massachusetts Normal Art School, and pottery decoration instructor Mary Given Sheerer was educated at the Cincinnati School of Design. The combined vision of these innovative individuals shaped the development of a successful craft workshop, embodied with ideals straight out of William Morris’ 19th century England.

Woodward traveled abroad in 1891-92 when on a leave of absence from teaching. After visiting the Delft Pottery in Holland he impulsively sent an order to Newcomb to purchase a clay table, sink and clay. It would be years before the pottery at Newcomb entered production.

Professor Woodward convinced Tulane’s administration of the importance of founding a pottery and President Brandt V. B. Dixon traveled to Ohio to personally tour the Rookwood Pottery. There, he was advised to contact Mary Given Sheerer, a Cincinnati-trained sculptor and painter who had also taken a course in china painting. Sheerer was recruited in 1884 to teach pottery design and decoration.

Early Newcomb Wares
Experimentation with clay bodies, glaze recipes, decoration techniques and kiln firing began in a building on the Washington Avenue campus in the fall of 1894. The same year, Newcomb College offered its first china painting class, followed by a ceramic course just one year later.

Newcomb administrators set Morris-like standards: the pots were to be well-designed, one of a kind, hand-thrown and hand-decorated utilitarian pieces. Decoration was to be inspired by Louisiana flora and fauna. Local clays dugs north of Lake Pontchartrain were used (although suitable clay for throwing required the addition of various materials from Alabama, South Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky and Indiana). Before Newcomb pottery was offered to the public for sale, its quality had to pass a rigorous assessment by a four-person faculty jury. If a piece did not meet criteria of the committee, the College’s impressed cipher of an "N" within a "C" was ground off the bottom of the pot with an abrasive wheel.

Many of the earliest experimental pieces were red-bodied, undecorated wares made to test various glaze recipes in the kiln. At its very young age, the Pottery had not yet established an identity and some of these early pieces blatantly emulate ancient ceramic prototypes, particularly those from the Orient.

Lamp Base with Applied Handles
Marie de Hoa LeBlanc, decorator
Joseph Meyer, potter
c. 1898

Possibly James Miller, potter
c. 1903-05

Two-handled Vase
Selina Bres, decorator
Attributed to Joseph Meyer, potter

Sheerer experimented with several decoration techniques before selecting a system that remained more or less unchanged for roughly forty years. Painting slip, or liquid clay, on unfired greenware, as was done with French barbotine and Rookwood wares, proved too difficult. China paints in a wide spectrum of reds, blues, pinks, greens, purples, and blues were briefly used but then abandoned. Sheerer soon discovered her preferred decoration method of applying underglaze pigments to biscuit, or once-fired clay. She restricted the palette to yellow, black, blue and green, all colors resulting from chemicals that fired with fairly predictable and stable results. Pots were then covered with a clear, shiny glaze and second-fired.

The students’ earliest bold, flat interpretations of indigenous plants and animals, often featuring botanical specimens drawn in cross-section, were clearly derived from English models. Decoration was strongly influenced by numerous printed sources available in the art school, books on design and plant ornamentation by some of the leading Arts and Crafts figures: Owen Jones, John Ruskin, William Morris, Walter Crane and Christopher Dresser. Plant drawing was a required course at the art school and many Newcomb students maintained their own gardens at home for inspiration and study.

Selina Bres, decorator
Jules Gabry, potter

Jardiniere with Palm Trees
Selina Elizabeth Bres, decorator
Attributed to Joseph Meyer, potter
c. 1897

This piece is decorated with both slip painting and sgrafitto techniques, processes experimented with in the early years of Newcomb pottery.

Marie De Hoa LeBlanc, decorator
Joseph Meyer, potter
c. 1900