Clay in Place:
Highlights from the Collection

  • Duration
    January 18 – March 25, 2018
  • Curated by
    Laura Blereau

Since primeval times, clay has persisted as a medium explored by visual artists across the globe. Earthen materials, which are a springboard for the contemporary works by Mexican artists in the companion exhibition Clay in Transit, also have a local history and one particular to New Orleans: Newcomb Pottery (1895-1940).

Yet long before Joseph Meyer experimented from 1896 to 1927 with clay recipes for Newcomb pottery, clay was an ubiquitous material in New Orleans. The mud of the Mississippi River was a source for the characteristically soft red bricks found in the city’s home constructions. And, alluvial deposits in St. Tammany parish, near Lake Pontchartrain, yielded slightly harder paving bricks, recognizable even today in the sidewalks of the Garden District.

Historically, the pottery produced at Newcomb relied on clay from these two places as well as the Bayou Tchulakabaufa in Biloxi. Instead of a single source, terra cotta was created from a mixture of red and buff clays. Experiments with regional materials were conducted throughout the years, and clay for the pottery also occasionally came from coastal Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Indiana.

While much has changed stylistically since the post-war period when the medium of ceramics shifted toward non-functional approaches, clay has endured as a material that reflects its concurrent environment and milieu. The museum’s collection mirrors these shifts in style, and the exhibition Clay in Place highlights both traditional and contemporary ceramics and their different approaches to function and place.

Works on view include Newcomb Pottery (1895-1940) and Newcomb Guild (1940-1952), and recent pieces by selected alumni, faculty, and former faculty. Among the dozen-plus artists featured are pioneering clay sculptor Peter Voulkos, who conducted a workshop on campus in 1978; jewelry designer Mignon Faget; four former heads of the ceramics program, Katherine Choy, Sadie Irvine, Mary Sheerer and Ellsworth Woodward; co-founder of Studio in the Woods, Lucianne Carmichael; and Rachel DePauw, winner of the 2007 Jaunita Gonzales Prize in Ceramics.

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