Organized by the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, Mississippi
December 8, 2007 – February 23, 2008.
Opening Reception Saturday, December 8th, 6-9pm
Ohr Rising: The Emergence of An American Master is an exhibition of 40 key works by the art potter, George E. Ohr (1857-1918), of Biloxi, Mississippi. In terms of his aesthetic choices, George E. Ohr was a ceramic artist decades ahead of his time. Early on, having mastered the potter’s wheel for production of utilitarian ware and popular souvenir items, Ohr became dissatisfied with the limits of round pots and began to experiment by altering his wheel-thrown shapes. On occasion he used the centrifugal force of his potter’s wheel to cause the pot to twist or buckle. At other times he manipulated the form with his fingers, using folding, indenting or ruffling techniques to change the contour or rim of the piece.
An important turning point of Ohr’s career was the 1894 destruction of his studio in an all-consuming fire. After construction of his new studio, Ohr seemed to be more committed than ever to pursuing his novel approach to form. Thin walled, asymmetric shapes, often with elaborate, ribboned handles or ruffled edges became his trademark. The unconventional work was not understood nor well received. Critics denounced Ohr’s work as bizarre or ugly, and with negligible sales his “art” remained virtually unrecognized during his lifetime.
George E. Ohr’s life story holds as many fascinating twists and turns as does his pottery. His persona was the epitome of today’s phrase, “inventing oneself.” Ohr’s flamboyant physical appearance, his massive mustache, his wild eyes, his outrageous claims of infamy, and crazy billboard signs earned him the title, “The Mad Potter of Biloxi.” Today George Ohr pieces are highly valued for their inventiveness and prized as precursors of the 1950’s abstract expressionist attitude toward clay.
The word “Rising,” in the exhibition title refers to the “rise from destruction” theme taken on by Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in its valiant recovery effort from Hurricane Katrina, 2005. The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, which suffered major damage during the storm, is likened to Ohr’s Biloxi studio which was destroyed by fire in 1894. Interestingly, the museum which bears his name has adopted “Ohr Rising” as its mantra for rebuilding, which will begin about the time this exhibit opens.
Currated by Anna Stanfield Harris, a few of the works in the Ohr Rising exhibit are owned by private collectors in Mississippi, but most are from the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum’s permanent collection. Underwriting for the exhibit is provided by grants from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Other Mad Potters
A Corollary Exhibition to
Ohr Rising: The Emergence of An American Master
December 8th – February 23rd, 2008 Opening Reception: Saturday, December 8th, 6-9 pm
Organized by AMOCA, Other Mad Potters, is separate exhibit with strong relational ties to Ohr Rising. It features the work of Steve Horn, a Southern California ceramic artist who executes Ohr-like pieces almost better than the master himself. Three other ceramic artists whose creative output connects in some way to the work of George Ohr will also be showcased. Mary Roehm’s work, with its very thin walls and delicate forms, has a certain resemblance to Ohr’s pieces ;Lisa Orr’s glazing is evocative of Ohr’s more brightly colored pieces, and Don Pilcher exudes the same freedom of experimentation practiced by Ohr. Pilcher’s “Rascal Ware,” a tale laced with edgy humor, double-entendres, potter’s pseudo wisdom and references to Ohr will also be presented.
Don Pilcher’s retirement from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he was a professor of art, has given him the time and freedom to pursue an uncommon approach to ceramics, blending it with story telling. The ceramic ware is genuine, but the story that Pilcher writes, while inspired by his real life, is mostly fiction. He calls it a “biography, twisted through some portal in my imagination…” The tale is about an imaginary pottery where the leading character, Georgette Ore, several other fabricated figures, and Pilcher himself make “Rascal Ware.” The chapters are laced with edgy humor, double-entendres, and potter’s pseudo wisdom. Aside from a certain similarity between George Ohr’s work and “Rascal Ware,” Pilcher’s tall tales make many references to Ohr. Georgette says that “her family has a legend that there is a connection between the Ores and the Ohrs. The discrepancy in spelling is attributed to the Immigration Service, an alcohol treatment sanitarium, or unregulated voting practices in a large rural county…” Junior, owner of the pottery, is described as “a born-again, fundamentalist, clay-thumping potter. For him, Rascal Ware is a divine calling… where he and George Ohr will sit at the right hand of whomever.”
Including Don Pilcher in Other Mad Potters was based on a number of considerations, most obvious of which is his literary reference to George Ohr in Rascal Tales. Physical similarities exist between the work of Pilcher and Ohr – slumped forms, caved structures, manipulated rims, and metallic surfaces. The two artists share parallel principles: the value of experimentation, the importance of original style, and the merit of taking creative risks. Art critic, Jason Foumberg describes Pilcher’s work in words that could easily describe Ohr’s work. “In Pilcher’s hands, traditional structures are re-invented. …the vessels sometimes have holes or are caving in on themselves and are functionally lost… [Their] subtle beauty can be found in the fate of gravity and fire.” The small size and scale of work made by the then-and-now ceramic artists are in sync, lending preciousness to their vessels.