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 Rachael DePauw, winner of the 2007 Jaunita Gonzales Prize in Ceramics.
This exhibition is made possible through the generous support of Jennifer Wooster (NC ’91), Lora and Don Peters (A&S ’81), Newcomb College Institute of Tulane University, Ms. Valerie A. Besthoff, Andrew and Eva Martinez, and the Newcomb Art Museum advisory board.
Aurelia Coralie Arbo (b. 1909, New Orleans, LA; d. 1993) trained at Newcomb from 1927 to 1931 and earned a Bachelor’s of Design. Afterward, she worked at the pottery until 1940, as well as in the private business of Newcomb potter Paul Cox from 1939-1942 in Harahan. In 1943 she was hired by the New Orleans Public School system as an art teacher in the Eleanor McMain Secondary School and the L. E. Rabouin Vocational High School.
Henrietta Davidson Bailey (b. 1874, New Orleans, LA; d. 1950, New Orleans, LA) was affiliated with Newcomb College for more than three decades. Starting as an art student in 1901, Bailey went onto to earn her masters in 1905 and won a competitive scholarship to study with Arthur Dow in Ipswich, Massachusetts that same year. Afterward, she worked as Newcomb pottery designer until 1926, at which point she was invited to join the school’s art faculty, where she remained until retirement in 1938. In addition to her work a designer, Bailey also created woodblock prints featuring Louisiana landscapes.
Lucianne Carmichael (b. 1931, Toronto, Canada; d. 2016) was an award-winning potter and a principal of the McDonogh 15 Elementary School in New Orleans. She also was a co-founder of the artist retreat center A Studio in the Woods, which is managed by the ByWater Institute through the Office of Research at Tulane University.
Katherine Choy (Choy Pau Yu) (b. 1927, Shanghai, China; immigrated 1946 to the US; d. 1958, Port Chester, NY) succeeded Sadie Irvine as the head of the ceramics program at Newcomb in 1952. Unfortunately, only six years later, Choy died suddenly at age 29 of undiagnosed pneumonia. She held the post in New Orleans at Newcomb for five years before establishing the Clay Art Center in 1957 in Port Chester, New York. Still in operation today, this non-profit encourages advanced study of the ceramic arts. “As a young Chinese art student and immigrant to America, Katherine Choy quickly assumed the technical and aesthetic influences of two of the most accomplished ceramic artists of the previous decade in California, Carlton Ball and Anthony Prieto,” says American ceramics expert Ronald Kuchta. “More like a poet than a potter, her career was brief but brilliant in its own determined direction.” Groundbreaking for its day, particularly as a woman ceramicist, Choy’s work aesthetically merged the formalist influences of abstract expressionism with traditional calligraphic brushwork of Asian potters. In 2000, a solo exhibition of her work was featured at the Newark Museum in New Jersey. She earned a BFA and MFA from Mills College in Oakland, CA, in addition to further education at Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI.
Rachael DePauw (b.1984, St. Louis, MO; lives in New Orleans LA) is an artist and educator who runs her own pottery and teaches at the Isidore Newman School. She earned a bachelor’s in Political Economy from Tulane University in 2007 and was one of the last students who was also able to receive an official degree from the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College. Upon graduation, the Newcomb Art Department also awarded her with the Juanita Gonzales Prize in Ceramics. DePauw apprenticed with Alex Williams at Potsalot Pottery in New Orleans. In her work, DePauw creates bold relief patterns and uses design motifs that reference Louisiana’s indigenous flora. Employing a technique called sgraffito, she paints a thin layer of black, liquid clay on a pre-fired vessel, and then uses a tool to carve through the slip to reveal the white clay underneath. The linear and abstract patterns created reflect New Orleans’s unique landscape and reference the blue and greenish wares of the Newcomb Pottery. Conceptually, her work also makes an important connection to the Newcomb artists who used sgraffito over a hundred years ago, such as Maria de Hoa LeBlanc and Harriet Joor.
William DePauw, Jr. (b. 1972, Warren MI; lives in New Orleans LA) is a Senior Professor of Practice in Ceramics at Tulane University. He earned a BFA in painting from Northern Michigan University and graduated from the Tulane MFA program in ceramics in 2004. DePauw’s work is rooted in a very personal observation of objects as abstract form. In his words, “I’m interested in how inherent references to the familiar or material can place the objects that I make into contexts, histories, and various other narratives.”
Mignon Faget (b. 1933, New Orleans LA; lives in New Orleans LA) is a celebrated artist and designer who creates jewelry pieces that reflect her native environment. In 1955 she earned a BFA in sculpture from Newcomb College, where her professors included Sarah “Sadie” Irvine, Robert Durant “Robin” Feild, Jules Struppeck and Pat Trivigno. She also studied at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris, Parsons School of Design in New York, and St. Mary’s Dominican College in New Orleans. Now operating on Magazine street, she opened her first design shop in 1969.
Francis A. Ford (b. 1916, New Orleans LA; d. 1984) was active as a potter at Newcomb from 1933 to 1948. As a child, he studied with Juanita Gonzales at the Kingsley House in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans. In his teenage years, Ford attended Saturday ceramics classes at Newcomb and studied with Jonathan Hunt. After working part-time as a potter for the Newcomb Pottery, he began working full-time in 1945 with the Newcomb Guild. In 1948 he moved to Seattle where he was a ceramic technician for the University of Washington School of Engineering. Ford also worked for Boeing, North American Aviation, and Tektronix.
Jules Gabry (b. circa 1850; d. 1897) was the first potter at Newcomb and was active for two to three years, starting in 1894. Little is known about his life, but prior to coming to New Orleans, he worked with the Clément Massier Pottery in Golfe-Juan France. Gabry was a friend of ceramicist George Ohr and committed suicide near his home in Biloxi by drowning in the Mississippi River.
Juanita Louise Gonzales (b. 1903, New Orleans LA; d. 1935) was an artist born to a Spanish father who was raised in Cuba before immigrating to the US. She attended the teacher’s program at Newcomb from 1921 to 1925 and earned a Bachelor’s of Design. Afterwards, she studied in New York with Russian sculptor Alexander Archipenko. In 1931 Gonzales joined Newcomb’s arts faculty and returned to New Orleans, where she also taught design at the Arts and Crafts Club. Her artistic practice included a wide range of media, as well as pottery, and she created notable portrait busts of several Louisiana state governors. Gonzales also designed furniture, fixtures, and architectural ornaments.
The Gela Painter (active in Greece circa 510 to 490 BCE) was a prolific artist in ancient Greece whose distinctive style is recognizable, although his real name is not known. He painted lekythoi vases in the black-figure style native to the Attic Peninsula, at the site of present-day Athens. In his work, the Gela Painter is known for creating original compositions that primarily depicted mythological scenes. Gela is located in the Sicily region of Italy, and it likely that this artist’s work was traded overseas from Greece for use in tombs. In the 1950s, English scholar Sir John Beazley established a classification system for this painter, among other artists and workshops producing ancient vessels in the Mediterranean. Over several decades, Beazley’s attribution work was based on visually identifying an artist’s (or group’s) individual style.
Jane Irwin Gibbs (b. 1881, MS; died 1974, Long Beach, CA) attended Newcomb and graduated in art before moving to California, where she worked in public schools for several decades.
Jonathan Hunt (b.1876; d. 1943) was trained in the Fulper Pottery at Flemington, New Jersey and worked with Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati and Orlando Pottery in Orlando. After the retirement of Joseph Meyer, Hunt came to Newcomb College as a ceramic chemist in 1927 and remained until 1933. He was a ceramic demonstrator of the Haeger Potteries of Dundee, Illinois at the Century of Progress Fair in Chicago in 1934-1935. He also worked at Broadmoor Pottery Company in Denver and was a consultant to several potters. He died November 12, 1943. (Excerpted from Newcomb Centennial, 1886-1986: An Exhibition of Art by the Art Faculty by Judith H. Bonner, exhibition catalog, published by Newcomb College, Tulane University, 1986, p. 31)
Sarah Agnes Estelle “Sadie” Irvine (b. 1887, New Orleans, LA; d.1970, New Orleans, LA) was raised in a small Catholic family in Uptown New Orleans. An artist and educator, she is considered by many scholars to be the leading figure in the influential Newcomb Pottery movement. The 1906 Newcomb College graduate taught pottery, design, and watercolor at the school until her retirement in 1952. Mentored by Ellsworth Woodward, Irvine designed many vases with oak, moss, and moon motifs, drawn directly onto the clay shape with perfect eye-measured width and modernist abstract aesthetics. Irvine’s craftsmanship is particularly evident in Newcomb’s geometric-based Espanol designs, inspired by odd patterns Ellsworth discovered in a hand-carved Spanish mantel in the French Quarter. (Excerpted from “Sadie Irvine” by Staff of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, appearing in knowlouisiana.org Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Article published September 12, 2012. http://www.knowlouisiana.org/entry/sadie-irvine.)
Harriet Coulter Joor (b.1875, Navarro County, TX; d. 1965) was an artist, designer, and educator who was an early graduate of the Newcomb program. She received a Bachelor’s of Science in 1895 and went on to continue her studies of art and teaching from 1896 to 1901. She was among the first three students in 1900 to win a summer school scholarship for school study with Arthur Dow in Ipswich MA. A Newcomb designer until at least 1906, Joor then moved to Chicago and, later, Washington D.C. As a professional designer, Joor created many of the needlework household textiles sold by the American Arts and Crafts impresario Gustav Stickley, in addition to Newcomb Pottery designs. She was also the author of many influential magazine articles that encouraged American women to explore handicrafts. Joor’s father was a botanist and on faculty at Tulane University, which influenced her attention to the visual details of local flora and fauna.