George Ohr Essay

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The 19th century American potter George Ohr (1857-1918) is an important ceramic artist associated with the American Arts and Crafts movement. With an emphasis on emotion, gesture and pure form, Ohr’s idiosyncratic clay vessels forecast Abstract Expressionist sculpture. His passionate personal, individual vision and rebellious, theatrical persona distinguish him as one of America’s most original and eccentric artists.
Ohr was born in Biloxi, Mississippi to a blacksmith and learned the potter’s trade from his friend Joseph Meyer. After touring various potteries in the United States to learn the profession, he built his Biloxi Art and Novelty Pottery studio. Painted pink (he rebuilt it to vaguely resemble a Chinese pagoda after much of Biloxi
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Never have you seen work which bore the mark of the maker to such a degree.” Studying images of Ohr’s work (the Detroit Institute of Arts owns one of his pots; unfortunately, it is not currently on display), I am impressed by the sheer variety of unique shapes he managed to bring forth from the clay. (“No two alike” he advertised.) His thin-walled vessels are notable for their idiosyncratic indentations and complex twists, pinches, pleats and ruffles. They are also spontaneous, experimental, sensuous and bursting with vitality. Many of Ohr’s pots are abstract, in that he seemed primarily concerned with the nature and properties of clay and the language of visual art; his pieces do not seem to spring from a desire for the decorative. Garth Clark writes that Ohr’s work reflects the modernist belief that “beauty could be achieved through the structure of the object rather than applied ornamentation”. Although Ohr regarded his pots’ shapes to be more important than their surfaces (He stopped glazing his pieces around the turn of the century) he confidently applied his highly-colored glazes in loose, painterly strokes and daubs. Over one hundred years since its creation, his emotionally intense work still expresses the excitement of the creative

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