Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Daniel Ridgway Knight

Chrysanthemums, Daniel Ridgway Knight--pretty, but so irrelevant.
Generally speaking, I don't much like Victorian art. Like its counterparts in architecture, fashion, furniture design, and interior décor, I find it the ultimate in fussiness. Moreover, I'm not crazy about decoration for the sake of decoration, nor the pseudo-morality often seen in Victorian painting content. I do find it interesting for the social milieu it reflects, but to me, that way of life, that uptight, overdressed, "prettiness" is so far removed from 21st-century living as to be uncomfortable at best and intolerable at worst. Even worse (if that's possible) are the eclectic compromises made by those who treasure this era in trying to accommodate Victorian antiquarianism into modern-day living. Inevitably, they fail to authentically follow through. It's pretentious to mentally embrace a dollhouse perfection, by pretending to be living in the late 19th-century.
The Harvesters Resting, Daniel Ridgway Knight. Millet would have (and did) paint his field hands hard at work.
Now, having imparted that diatribe, let me say that in the case of a few Victorian painters (damned few) I can make exceptions, forgetting about my distastes for the life and times in which they lived, as I admire their quiet, provincial depictions of honest, unpretentious, peasant existence. Perhaps the most typical of that type of painter would be the American artist, Daniel Ridgway Knight. For one thing, though an American, his aesthetic roots were lodged deep in the French soil along the banks of the Siene. Chrysanthemums (top) is a prime example of what I mean. Yes, it's a pretty picture, a pretty maiden, pretty flowers, and a lovely flowing river (undoubtedly the Siene). But it is neither fussy nor pretentious. In 1874, while painting in Barbizon, Knight went to visit the French Realist painter, Jean-François Millet, whose work he admired. However, Knight found Millet's view of peasant life to be too fatalistic. As opposed to Millet, Knight focused on depicting the rural classes in their happier moments.
Knight shows off his innovative, for its time (1885-90) glass studio.
Daniel Ridgway Knight was born in 1839 in Pennsylvania. He studied and exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was a classmate of Mary Cassatt and Thomas Eakins. In 1861, as the American Civil War loomed on the horizon, Knight went to Paris to study at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Cabanel. Later he apprenticed in the atelier of Charles-Gabriel Gleyere (both Victorian academics). In 1863, not one to shrug off his patriotic duties, Knight returned to Philadelphia to serve in the Union Army. During the war, he practiced sketching facial expressions and capturing human emotion in his work. He also sketched battle scenes, recording the war for history.
The Burning of Chambersburg, 1867, Daniel Ridgway Knight
After the war, Knight founded the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where he showed works that dealt with the Civil War. A Chambersburg citizen and a Union soldier, Knight decided to pay tribute to the Confederate burning of his city some three years before. By that time he had left the army and set up his studio in Philadelphia. Knight chose not to represent the violence itself, but the effects of it, with the result being a memorable history painting. On July 28, Confederate Brig. Gen. John McCausland demanded a ransom of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in U.S. currency to save the city from being burned to the ground. However, the skeptical town leaders refused to pay it. So two days later, the Confederates fulfilled their threat, although some southern soldiers refused to participate, considering it to be barbaric. The Burning of Chambersburg depicts exhausted Chambersburg civilians who had fled for safety from their burning city in 1864.

Wash Day, Daniel Ridgway Knight
In 1871 Knight married, and after the wedding, began working as a portrait painter in order to earn enough money to return to France. Nine years after returning to the U.S., Knight had saved enough to buy two steamer tickets back to France. Once settled near Paris, Knight befriended Renoir, Sisley, and Wordsworth, all of whom influenced his work. He also enjoyed a close relationship with Meissonier. In 1875 Knight painted Wash Day after a sketch by Meissonier for which Knight received much critical acclaim.

Food in the fields...
Knight's works during the 1870's and 1880's focused on the peasant at work in the field's or doing the day's chores--collecting water or washing clothes at the riverside. Around the mid-1890's, Knight established a home in Rolleboise, some forty miles west of Paris. There he began to paint the scenes that have made him famous and his work so sought-after by contemporary collectors. His home had a beautiful garden terrace that overlooked the Seine--a view he often used in his paintings. Coffee in the Garden (below) is typical of his works during this period. Collectors from around the world vied for these works which featured attractive local girls in his garden.

Coffee in the Garden, Daniel Ridgway Knight
In 1889 Knight was awarded a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition and was knighted in the French Legion of Honor, becoming an officer in 1914. In 1896 he received the Grand Medal of Honor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Daniel R. Knight died in Paris in 1924 at the age of eighty-four.

Preparing the Meal, Daniel Ridgway Knight

Elegant Figures in an Interior,
Daniel Ridgway Knight--Victorian
living looks like oh so much fun,
doesn't it?


Friday, June 23, 2017

Matthijs Naiveu

Carnival Scene, Mathijs, Naiveu

Surgery, Matthijs Naiveu
If you mention genre painting to most people today you'd probably be met with a blank stare. And even those who know the general definition of "genre," likely wouldn't have a clue as to what it means as applied to painting. However, they'd probably be too embarrassed to ask simply, "What's that?" For the ben-efit of such individuals, generally speaking, genre is a system of clas-sifying items or qualities that bear similar features (a sports car is a genre of the automobile). Taking it from there, the word "genre" can be applied to various and sundry types of art. But it's usually not (for the reasons I've just mentioned). Usually it's applied to only one type of art; that depicting scenes from common, everyday life such as a visit to the doctor similar to the one at right (the actual title is Interior of a Surgery with a Surgeon Treating a Wound in the Arm of a Man, with a Boy and Five Other Figures). Other genre scenes depict the calling upon a newborn baby, playing cards, people enjoying a community festival (above), etc. Taking that into account, you don't much see genre painting anymore. Unfortunately, it has largely been replaced by genre photography (or perhaps genre TV, as in sitcoms).

Candle Lit Interior, Matthijs Naiveu
Although genre painting probably existed to some degree earlier, it was the Dutch, during their "Golden Age," (the 17th- century) who have been credited with first popularizing it. Genre draws from various other types of painting--history painting, portraits, landscapes, even still-life--though it's probably most closely related to history painting. History painting deals with the triumphs, trials, and tribulations of national leaders in the act of leading. Genre is, in effect, the history of the lower and middle classes--nothing earthshattering--but important as a visual record of how the "common man" (women and children too) actually lived their lives of small joys and quiet desperation.

A genre scene that hasn't changed much in four-hundred
years--except for disposable diapers.
Zelfportret Matthijs Naiveu
Matthijs Naiveu was one of the better Dutch genre painters. By that I mean he was better than average but far from the level to have left a glowing legacy of unforgettable works. Although genre painters were well down the status ladder from history paint-ers, art took virtually all the same skills and demanded a technical virtuosity and compositional sense nearly as well defined. Naiveu was born in 1647 and died in 1726 at the age of seventy-nine. The artist was born in Leiden (eastern) Holland, and died in Amsterdam. Naiveu was probably trained in drawing by Abraham To-orenvliet, a glass painter and drawing instructor. His painting skills he picked up in studying under Gerrit Dou. Until the advent of color printing genre painting was often far from a full-time job. Quite likely Naiveu made his living from his numerous portraits such as seen below. Unlike most Dutch Golden Age artist Naiveu also had a "day job" as a hop inspector for Amsterdam brewers.

Double Portraits Of A Married Couple, Matthijs Naiveu
Matthijs Naiveu's largest work was a Seven Works of Mercy, which the art historian, Arnold Houbraken found to be his best work as well. In 1671 Naiveu entered the Leiden Guild of St. Luke and was highly productive. As a painter of signed work, his earliest dated painting is from 1668, while his last was from 1721. I should note that the reference I came upon to Seven Works of Mercy (listed below) was new to me. In researching it further I found the list to be a Roman Catholic theme (I'm not Catholic); and that it was actually two lists, one corporeal, one spiritual. While not exactly a common theme among artist, there were other examples mentioned. Unfortunately I could not find unified images for either Naiveu's painting(s) or that of any other artists. I've included the lists here in that, Catholic or Protestant, they appear to represent Christian ideals at their best.

There's no indication as to which set of Works of Mercy Naiveu painted (perhaps both).


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sally Mann

Candy Cigarette, Sally Mann
When you first saw the photo above, before reading the title, what's your first reaction? Does the fact that the photo was taken by the girl's mother change your attitude? Are you outraged that such a pretty, young, preadolescent girl should be pictured smoking a cigarette? Or are you caught up in the adult look and pose she projects? How does your realization that she is "smoking" a candy cigarette effect your thoughts? Are you amused that your mind has been "tricked," or are you angered that your mind has been manipulated? Sally Mann has illustrating the bittersweet tragedy of children maturing too quickly in a world of ever-accelerating change. Her daughter, Jessie, is a captivating child who will one day grow to be a strikingly beautiful woman. Yet, it seems that the purity of her childhood is already fraying at the edges. The ease and familiarity with which she mimics adult behavior is jarring. Her crossed arms and defiant gaze convey a rebellious nature, Her eyes suggest a weariness that is beyond her years. She exudes the sensuality and worldliness of the woman she has yet to become. Candy Cigarette is as beautiful as it is unsettling. It depicts an entire generation, too eager to grow up too quickly.
Do photos augment memories...or replace them?
Candy Cigarette dates from 1989. Jessie is now nearing forty years of age (she has never smoked real cigarettes, by the way.) Sally Mann dates from 1951. She was born in Lexington, Virginia, the third of three children and the only daughter. Her father was a general practitioner, and her mother, ran the bookstore at Washington and Lee University in Lexington. Mann was introduced to photography by her father, Robert Munger, a physician who photographed his daughter nude as a little girl. Sally Mann herself took up photography when she was sixteen. Most of her early photographs are tied to her hometown. Mann graduated from The Putney School in 1969, and attended Bennington College and Friends World College. She earned a B.A., summa cum laude, from Hollins College in 1974 and a MA in creative writing in 1975. She began studying photography seriously at Putney, where, she admits her primary motivation was to be alone in the darkroom with her boyfriend.
Jessie, Emmett, and Virginia, 1989, Sally Mann,
Sally Mann creates large-scale, black-and-white photographs. Her pieces have evolved greatly over the years sparking much debate among art critics and historians. Many of her earlier photographs deal with childhood and young children, while later subjects include landscapes dealing with decay and death. Mann’s work appears regularly in various venues, and has won a number of prestigious awards over the course of her career. Mann’s popularity exploded after the release of the Immediate Family and At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women collections, in which the main subjects are her three children (above).

The Perfect Tomato, Sally Mann from her book, Family Pictures.
With the success of these and other collections came controversy. Many of the photos depict her children in the nude, prompting some people to question whether or not these images bordered on child pornography. In addition, there are several photos, such as Battered Child, which caused people to question whether Mann was neglecting her children for the sake of art. Though the photos of her children are undoubtedly Mann’s most famous images, her range includes subjects from further taboos of decaying corpses to the simple beauty of Southern landscapes (below).

Deep South, Sally Mann
Sally Mann has been spared the litigation that surrounded the Robert Mapplethorpe shows. And, unlike Jock Sturges, whose equipment and photographs of nude prepubescent girls were confiscated by the F.B.I., she has not been pursued by the Government on child pornography charges. But a Federal prosecutor in Roanoke, Va., from whom she sought advice, warned Mann that no fewer than eight pictures she had chosen for the traveling exhibition could subject her to arrest. Beyond issues of creative license and freedom of speech, Mann’s work raises personal concerns. The shield of motherhood can quickly become a sword when turned against her. Assuming it is her solemn responsibility to protect her children from all harm, did she knowingly put them at risk by releasing nude photos into a world where pedophilia exists? Can young children freely give their consent for controversial portraits, even if—especially if—the artist is their own mother? Quite apart from legal matters, and creative expression; is the work any good? Are these sensual images a reflection of the behavior of her subjects or are they shaped by the taste and fantasies of the photographer for an affluent audience? Is it pandering or bravery, her photographs of what other adults have seen but turned away from?

Faces, Sally Mann

Emmett Munger Mann, son of Sally Mann
at age twelve. In June, 2016, at the age of
thirty-six, suffering from schizophrenia,
he took his own life.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

Moral, social, and legal questions are as thick as the suspense.
With the dense concentration of urban city life today, very few city dwellers, at one time or another, have not glanced out their apartment windows, searching for signs of life in other high rise apartment complexes nearby. I live in a rural area in which I can hardly see my neighbors' houses, much less see in them, so I can ask with a clear conscience, does such a quick glance constitute voyeurism? Few would disagree that peering out a window at people living nearby with binoculars, a telescope, or a telescopic camera lens goes too far. People value their privacy which, in turn, is protected by laws and social values in which such nosey neighbors fully deserve the designation "peeping Tom."

Jimmy Stewart as L.B. (Jeff) Jeffries.
In his classic 1954 suspense thriller, Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock tackles both the positive and negative elements of voyeurism leaving his breathless audience to contemplate whether an illegal means (voyeurism) justifies solving a murder, bringing a murderous husband to justice, while incidentally preventing a suicide. The film is an intriguing, brilliant, macabre Hitchcockian visual study of obsessive human curiosity and voyeurism based on John Michael Hayes' screenplay, which was based on Cornell Woolrich's original 1942 short story, It Had to Be Murder. For about one third of the film you see an immobilized man looking out. The second part details what he sees, while the third part exposes how he reacts.

At what point between a glance out the "rear window"
and breaking out the binoculars does voyeurism raise
its nosy face?
Although Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, and Thelma Ritter were all equally outstanding in their parts, and if you'll notice, received equal billing (top), right beneath that of the star, Jimmy Stewart; the real star is director Alfred Hitchcock. He was the only one nominated for an Academy Award (he didn't win). Years later, Roger Ebert put it best: "[Hitchcock] develops such a clean, uncluttered line from beginning to end that we're drawn through it (and into it) effortlessly. The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like...well, like spying on your neighbors. Hitchcock traps us right from the first...and because he makes us accomplices in Stewart's voyeurism--we're along for the ride. When an enraged man comes bursting through the door to kill Stewart, we can't detach ourselves, because we looked too, and so we share the guilt..."

Hollywood set design and lighting at their best.
Set as complex as this are modeled
before being built.
Quite apart from Hitchcock's astute directing, his massive outdoor set designed and built entirely inside an enormous Paramount soundstage deserves a round of kudos for set de-signers, Hal Pereira, Joseph MacMil-lan. All the drama in the movie takes place in a block of Manhattan apart-ments in buildings surrounding an inner courtyard. Most of the buildings surrounding the central courtyard are typical American city brick apart-ments. Though all were constructed inside, lighting was ingeniously de-signed to create the effects of night and day (above) over the course of the four days during which the story evolves.

Jimmy Stewart may well be one of the few, perhaps
the only, actor to do an entire film sitting down.
A man confined to a wheelchair needs all the help he can get. That's where the supporting cast comes in. Thelma Ritter plays Stella, who sees to all Jeffries physical needs while passing out wise advice whether the man wants it or needs it or not. Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly, is Jeffries' mild love interest (far milder that she would like); while Wendell Corey as Tom Doyle, is Jeffries police detective friend, who for some reason overlooks the fact his friend is breaking the law (one of the few weak performances in the film). A gray-haired Raymond Burr, before he became a high-priced attorney, plays Lars Thorwald, who...well, we wouldn't want to give away the plot in a who-done-it murder mystery.
Character actress Thelma Ritter with Jimmy Stewart.
She's always a joy to watch, whatever her role.
It's hard to divorce Burr from his later TV roles as Perry Mason, and Robert T. Ironside.
The movie was released worldwide on September 1, 1954. The film went on to earn an estimated $5.3 million (with a budget of one-million) at the North American box office in 1954. The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and is considered one of Hitchcock's best. On the website Rotten Tomatoes, the Rear Window has been universally praised, garnering a 100% certified fresh rating, based on 61 reviews, with the consensus stating that "Hitchcock exerted full potential of suspense in this masterpiece." Grace Kelly (below) didn't do too bad either.
From fashion model to damsel in distress, Grace Kelly played Lisa Fremont with cool grace.


If you see REAR WINDOW twenty times.
This motion picture has enough merit to
stand up under any number of viewings.

But please do not anticipate those
deliciously terrifying scenes that make
you scream. Hold your breath until
the scenes actually appear on the
screen. Then let go.

--Alfred Hitchcock


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Charles Leval (Levalet)

Accumulation, 2015, Levalet
I suppose there's several instances of street art from the 20th-century, or even before, but it seems to me that such artwork, as we know it today, is quintessentially 21st-century. Street art grew out of urban graffiti, which most people would agree takes far too much stretching of the definition to be considered art. Thus, it's hard to say precisely when and where street graffiti became street art, probably, as Picasso once suggested, when people started buying it ("Art is anything the public will buy"). That would be about the time New York City graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat and others, began displaying on the hallowed wall of that city's SoHo district around 1980; which would be about a decade before the Paris street artist, Charles Leval, was even born.
Like many street artists, photos are rare
...self-portraits even more so.
Charles Leval goes by the name Levalet. He was born in Epinal (northeastern) France. He grew up in Guadeloupe, one of the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean where he came into contact with urban culture and later with the visual arts. Levalet trained initially in Strasbourg (eastern) France, where he studied painting and an-imation. He began to develop a style which focuses on an interaction between the subject of the artworks and the environmental space they’re in. Levalet considers urban art as part of the identity of the city.

Need More, 2016, Levalet
Brooklyn street art, 2014, Levalet
Effraction, 2015, Levalet
Levalet likes to explore the architectural diversity of Paris, with its alleys and passages which create an intimacy with the viewer. A lot of thought goes into location too, as each piece visually interacts with its environment in one way or another. His dry sense of humor is never far beneath the surface. Architecture supports his work. Then he stages his artwork with photo-graphs. Levalet's work is, basically an installed drawing. He draws his characters in Indian ink in the public space much like a game of visual and semantic dialogue with the environment. His fig-ures interact with the architecture and involve themselves in situations sometimes bordering on the absurd as seen in his Brooklyn street art (above).

The Course, 2013, Levalet

Street art has had a huge upswing during the 21st century and we’ve truly seen some rather astonishing pieces adorn the streets of cities throughout the world. Levalet's work began appearing on the streets of Paris around 2012. He has since displayed in numerous exhibitions and several solo shows, as well as participating in international meetings of street artists like himself. Born in 1988, at twenty-nine years of age, Levalet is still quite young for a full-time pro-fessional artist, though not so young as street artist go.

Information, 2014, Levalet

Levalet averages about twelve to twenty street art installations per year, but he does not limit himself only to the streets of Paris. At some exhibitions his work can be seen both on the street and in a gallery setting. His Information (above, left) is one such piece. Levalet sells limited edition prints and photos of his street art as well. The Fall (above) is a variation of a street art image.

 Service After the Sale, 2014, Levalet

The Rescue, 2017, Levalet


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Sunrise at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
On May 5, 2012, I had lunch at a sidewalk café on the Pariser Platz in Berlin, Germany, about a block from the famed Brandenburg Gate. I was with a tour group so I didn't dare venture much closer, but this historic edifice is so enormously impressive, there was really no need. In fact, it was probably better that I saw it only from a distance. Being a gate, there are, of course, two sides to see. I was on the western side, though the bus we were on passed near the eastern side as well where the infamous Berlin Wall once stood. The western side is the more architecturally attractive. It was here that President Kennedy proclaimed in 1963, “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner). The phrase can also be translated "I am a jelly donut." Near the same location in 1987, President Reagan implored Soviet Premier Gorbachev, "...tear down this wall." A little over two years later, the wall began to fall.
The Brandenburg Gate as seen from the east. Since the wall came down, the gate is now open, but only to pedestrians.
As impressive as the Brandenburg may be architecturally, it is also laden with as much political, military, and social history as virtually any other structure in all Europe. Quite apart from it's stately classical architecture, the Brandenburg also has its share of art history too, but we'll get to that later. Shortly after the Thirty Years' War, around 1688, Berlin was a small walled city within a star-shaped fort with several named gates: Spandauer Tor, St. Georgen Tor, Stralower Tor, Cöpenicker Tor, Neues Tor, and Leipziger Tor (see map, below). The Brandenburg Gate, by the way, was not one of them. It was not begun until 1788 and not completed until 1791.
Once on the western outskirts of the city, the Brandenburg
Gate today is locate near the geographical center of Berlin.
The new gate was commissioned by Frederick William II of Prussia to symbolize peace. The gate was designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, the Court Superintendent of Buildings, to replace an earlier guardhouses which flanked the original gate in the Customs Wall. The new gate consisted of twelve Doric columns, six to each side, forming five passageways. Citizens originally were allowed to use only the outermost two on each side. Crowning the gate is a Quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses, sculpted by Johann Gottfried Schadow.
The west side of the gate, day or night, it's equally impressive.
The Brandenburg Gate has played various political roles in German history. After the 1806 Prussian defeat at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, Napoleon was the first to use the Brandenburg Gate for a triumphal procession (second image below). Shortly thereafter he took its Quadriga back to Paris as a souvenir. Berlin souvenirs have changed a lot since then. Today, he'd probably cart off a leftover section of the wall. After Waterloo, the French eventually gave back the bronze ornament (below).
A visual art history of the Brandenburg Gate.
When the Nazis ascended to power during the 1930s, the gate became a party symbol. The gate survived World War II (just barely) and was one of the damaged structures still standing in the Pariser Platz ruins in 1945 (another being the Academy of Fine Arts). The gate was badly damaged with holes in the columns from bullets and nearby explosions. Only one horse’s head from the original quadriga survived. Today it's kept in the collection of the Märkisches Museum in case there's another war.
Germany, Russia, France, England, the United States and many other
nations have all lost brave men and women fighting for control of
Berlin and its famous gateway.
Following the end of the war, the governments of both East and West Berlin joined together to restore the Brandenburg Gate. The holes were patched, but like the wounds of war, were still visible for many years. Vehicles and pedestrians could travel freely through the gate, located in East Berlin, until the wall went up in August of 1961. From that point on only one of the eight original crossings was opened on the eastern side of the gate, but not for East Berliners or East Germans, who from then on needed an exit visa. During the next twenty-eight years the gate came to symbolized freedom and the desire to unify the city of Berlin. With the collapse of the East German government in November of 1989, thousands of people gathered at the wall to celebrate its fall. On December 22 of that year, the Brandenburg Gate border crossing was reopened when Helmut Kohl, the West German chancellor, walked through to be greeted by Hans Modrow, the East German prime minister. Demolition of the rest of the wall around the area took place the following year.
Today, the fully-restored Brandenburg Gate is once
more a symbol of peace and German unity.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

George Ohr (continued).

Yesterday, I discovered George Ohr through the Biloxi, Mississippi art museum which he inspired. Today, I thought it appropriate to delve further into the hardworking, talented, eccentric, old codger who became known to locals and tourists alike as the "Mad Potter of Biloxi." The name is somewhat unkind in that George seldom got angry at anyone, and was no more "mad" (as in crazy) than he chose to be in creating an all-important artist's persona. It was a shrewd marketing strategy still used by artists today aimed at selling their work by being colorful and more than a little peculiar. As a ceramicist, perhaps he should be called the "Mud Potter of Biloxi."

The George Ohr pottery mark. Some pieces are signed in script.
George Ohr had a restless adolescence in the confusion of the post-Civil War years. After learning the blacksmith trade from his father, George, at fourteen, left for New Orleans, where he tried nineteen different jobs. When he was twenty-two, a boyhood friend from Biloxi, Joseph Fortuné Meyer, offered Ohr a job as an apprentice potter in New Orleans. The course of the rest of George Ohr’s life was set--in clay.

Some of Ohr's vases were totally impractical
--they wouldn't hold water.
After he had learned his craft, the novice potter left New Orleans for a two-year, sixteen-state tour of potteries to learn all he could about the profession. Upon returning to Biloxi, Ohr built his pottery shop himself. He fabricated all of the ironwork, made the potter's wheel, the kiln, rafted lumber down river, sawed it into boards, and constructed his shop. Joseph Meyer had taught him how to use the natural resources around Biloxi, how to locate and dig clay from the banks of a nearby River. Using a skiff, Ohr floated his load back downstream to Biloxi.

Ohr awaits customers in his pottery shop. Sadly, there weren't many.
When his kiln was ready, Ohr worked hard at the potter’s wheel producing practical items like jugs, mugs, planters, flowerpots, and water bottles. He also found time to produce finer work, as well. In 1885, New Orleans hosted a World's Fair. The fair allowed Ohr to display his work for the first time to an international audience. He startled the art world with his extraordinary pots. He exhibited some six hundred pieces and won a silver medal. Unfortunately, all of them were stolen before he could get them back to Biloxi. Despite this, Ohr returned to Biloxi with a wife he'd met at the World's Fair, a Miss Josephine Gehring.

Vessel Cream Pot, George Edgar Ohr, 1903-1907.
Once back home, Ohr went into serious production for himself. Biloxi Art and Novelty Pottery, as he called his pink shop, was soon crammed with vessels of all shapes, sizes, and decorations, “rustic, ornamental, new and ancient shaped vases, etc.” Ohr differed from most artists of his time in that, as he created his pots, he also created himself. Ohr presented himself as a brash, wildly eccentric artisan, mischievously wearing a beard and moustache that has to be seen to be believe. Somehow, he managed to hook his moustache over his ears. As a result, he gave his business a carnival atmosphere.

The damaged kiln was about all that remained as fire destroyed George Ohr's studio to and all of his work. The loss of his life's work seemed to unleash a new-found energy in Ohr's work, which gained a greater
fluidity and mastery.

Then, in the fall of 1894, a fire wiped out Ohr's pottery, along with twenty other business establishments in Biloxi. After the fire Ohr "rescued" several of his damaged art. He couldn't bear to part with his burned pots--he called them his "Burnt Babies" (below). Undeterred, Ohr rebuilt a brand new pottery with a five-story tower shaped like a pagoda. He called it Biloxi Art Pottery Unlimited. It wasn't long before the tourists returned in great numbers. At the same time, Ohr's friend, Joseph Meyer had become a teaching potter at Sophie Newcomb College (now part of Tulane University). He again asked Ohr to work with him in New Orleans. From 1897 to 1899 Ohr divided his time between Biloxi and New Orleans, working constantly to supplement his income for his growing family. He and his wife had ten children, though only five survived to adulthood.
George Ohr "Burnt Babies"
Ohr's cups and saucers, plaques of local sites, Mississippi mule ink wells, tiny artist's pallets, puzzle mugs, and molded souvenirs of all kinds, were popular with tourists and local residents. But his extraordinary skill at the potter's wheel making his art-ware brought him to the attention of the ceramic art world. Ohr threw extremely delicate, thin-walled pots which he manipulated into exotic forms by twisting, denting, ruffling, and folding the clay into vases. Ohr's "serious" creations were not popular with the public. Victorian art pottery of his day was carefully controlled and decorated. Ohr’s energetic, expressionistic treatment of clay was too wild even for refined tastes. Today, some consider Ohr the world's first abstract artist.

The $7,000 Twisted Cup, George Ohr. In 1968, James W. Carpenter, an antiques dealer from Montague, N. J., arrived in Biloxi to search for his specialty--old cars at the auto repair shop owned by Ohr's sons. They showed him their father's crates of unsold pottery. Two years later Carpenter bought the horde for about $50,000. In 1972, Carpenter sold individual pieces for $40 to $1,200. One of them, the Twisted Cup (above) recently sold for $7,000. Brightly glazed pieces go for much more.

Ohr was passionate about his work and supremely confident in his talent. He wrote to an art critic, “I am making pottery for art’s sake, God’s sake, the future generation, and by present indications, for my own satisfaction; but when I'm gone, my work will be prized, honored and cherished.” In 1899 he packed up eight pieces and sent them to the Smithsonian Institution. One of the pots was inscribed, “I am the Potter Who Was.” Ohr gave up his profession as potter in 1909. His landmark ceramic shop became Biloxi's first auto repair shop, run by his sons. Ohr was urged by his family to sell his pots. Instead he packed up the lot of them (several thousand) that he could not, or would not, sell and stored them away. He was confident that the world would someday recognize him as “the greatest art potter on earth.” Modesty was never one of his virtues. George Ohr died of throat cancer in 1918.

Click above to learn how to make twisted pots.