Newcomb Enterprise & Guild

Selected Works from the NAM Collection

  • Duration
    September 7, 2016 – December 4, 2016

  • Works by
    Sadie Irvine, Esther Huger Elliot, and other Newcomb artists
  • Curated by
    Tulane University students Charlotte Giroux, Joseph Ramsey, Lauren Victor

The year 1895 marked the birth of two important American art forms in the city of New Orleans: jazz (with the formation of Buddy Bolden’s band) and Newcomb pottery. While lesser known than their musical counterpart, the wares created at Newcomb represent some of the country’s finest expressions of art pottery, highly sought after by private collectors and museums alike.

Like jazz, Newcomb pottery emerged from the distinctive cultural milieu of late nineteenth century New Orleans. All pieces were unique, and design motifs reflected the floral and fauna of the Gulf South. Newcomb pottery was sold commercially across the country and exhibited internationally, winning prestigious awards at fairs and expositions the world over.

The school had been founded only nine years prior through an endowment established by Josephine Louise Newcomb in memory of her daughter Sophie. As the first degree-granting coordinate college for women in the United States, the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College offered an education both “practical and literary.” The art curriculum, in particular, was unique among art potteries for its underlying utilitarian philosophy: works were to be both beautiful and useful.

The Newcomb Enterprise eventually came to include jewelry (1909), textiles, embroidery, and metalwork (1911), and bookbinding (1913). In all media, women had the opportunity to produce handmade items that gave them professional training and income toward financial self-sufficiency. By the time of its closing in 1940, the program had provided employment to roughly ninety Newcomb graduates, and produced some 70,000 distinct pieces of work.

The Newcomb Guild, created by the Tulane administration in late 1941, preserved many of the enterprise’s original ideals but focused on more basic utilitarian wares with muted glazes, which ultimately proved less commercially viable. The guild closed in 1952, appropriately coinciding with the retirement of one of Newcomb’s longest serving art faculty members, Sarah Agnes Estelle “Sadie” Irvine. One of the exhibition’s three display cases is dedicated to her work.