Newcomb Pottery Timeline


1884 – New Orleans Cotton Centennial opens in Uptown section of city. Tulane University professors, William Woodward and John M. Ordway, offer drawing and mechanical training demonstrations at the exposition to attract students. Other lectures and exhibitions include a Women’s department, headed by Julia Ward Howe, to encourage women to see new roles for themselves.

1885 – Ellsworth Woodward joins brother, William, in New Orleans and together they organize free evening and Saturday art classes for city’s residents. Students from the decorative art classes for women formed the Decorative Art League lead by Ellsworth Woodward. Art League members, under the supervision of William Woodward organize New Orleans Art Pottery, the direct forerunner of Newcomb Pottery enterprise. Joseph Fortune Meyer and his friend, George E. Ohr, are hired as the organization’s ceramists in 1888. The group is terminated in 1893 but in 1897, Meyer is appointed to the Newcomb Pottery and remains their potter until his retirement in 1927.

1886 – Mrs. Josephine Louise Newcomb establishes the nation’s first coordinate college for women with a $100,000 gift to Tulane University. The H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, named in honor of Newcomb’s daughter, Harriott Sophie, opens on October 13, 1887 in a former residence on Camp and Delord Streets. The art faculty consists of William and Ellsworth Woodward and Miss Gertrude Roberts, soon to become Mrs. Gertrude Roberts Smith. The art curriculum includes Mechanical and Architectural Drawing as well as design, color ornamentation, and woodcarving.


1892 – Owing to increased enrollment, Newcomb College outgrows first home and moves into former Robb-Burnside mansion located in the city’s Garden District. Property encompasses entire city block and is bound by Washington Avenue, Sixth, Chestnut, and Camp streets. The Art department and gallery share space on the second floor with the chapel.

1894 – Art Building is erected on corner of Sixth and Camp streets. It is designed by noted Philadelphia architect, Wilson Eyre; local, supervising architect is Charles Favrot. “Special departments in this building will be devoted to the teachers of painting, drawing, molding, drawing from casts and studies from life. Two rooms will be devoted to the formation of an art gallery …”[1]

1893 – Ellsworth Woodward proposes to Newcomb College president, Brandt V. B. Dixon, the founding of a model industry that would “exhibit an object lesson as to the possibilities underlying native raw materials when trained talent takes it in hand and stamps it for beauty and use.”[2]

1894 – Mary Given Sheerer is hired to teach china decoration and ceramic art. She is a graduate of the Cincinnati School of Design (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati), and familiar with working of the Rookwood Pottery. Influenced by English Arts and Crafts movement, Sheerer and Woodward set guidelines for the enterprise’s crafts – designs to be indigenous vegetation and wildlife, no design duplicated, and all pieces must pass inspection of the faculty jury prior to sale.

1895 – Art faculty launches Newcomb Pottery enterprise.

1896 – Newcomb pottery holds its first public exhibition and sale in June. It receives rave reviews in the New Orleans Times-Democrat newspaper. Newcomb begins sending collections to Arts and Crafts exhibitions around the country; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts acquires several pieces in 1899. “Its success has been surprising when one considers that not a line of advertising has been employed.”[3]

1900 – 1905

1900 – Woodward is contacted by the National League of Mineral Painters to send samples of the pottery to the Exposition Universelle de 1900 in Paris. Newcomb wins a bronze medal. Harriet Joor and Amelia Roman are first Newcomb students to attend Arthur Wesley Dow’s summer school in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Design aesthetic changes from painterly renderings to conventionalized, bold outlines. Association with Ipswich lasts until 1906.

1901 – Tiffany Glass Company invites Newcomb to exhibit with them at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The Pottery enterprise wins a silver medal. Demand for the pottery exceeds supply. System of registration marks coding the date and number of pieces produced begins.

Previously, art students were required to pay for pieces they made, recouping money only when object was sold. Woodward receives permission from Tulane Board of Administrators to set up fund from proceeds of crafts sales that allows the College to pay decorators a percentage of total sale price for finished object. Decorators income reported between $15 to $40 per month.

1902 – Pottery building, designed by New Orleans’ architect, Rathbone de Buys, is completed at 2828 Camp Street. “ … The first floor will be the manufactory department and salesroom and on the second floor the classrooms.” [4] New courses in needlework and calligraphy are added to the curriculum under the direction of Gertrude Roberts Smith. Surface decoration on pottery now incorporates incised lines. Experimentation with pierced, brass lampshades begins.

1904 – Art School receives silver medal at Louisiana Purchase Exposition for its display of a variety of crafts. Twenty-three pieces are sent to the Expo, and the city of St. Louis buys several items for their museum. Sales reported at $4,500.


1906 – Newcomb Art Alumnae Association is formed under the auspices of the Newcomb Alumnae Association. Beginning in 1908, Art Association establishes scholarships, funded from sales of alumnae art exhibition, for talented women who are unable to afford tuition at the College.

1907 – Pottery enterprise receives first gold medal at the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition in Norfolk, Virginia. Newcomb student body now includes women from Vancouver, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York. Design aesthetic includes some relief modeling.

1908 – Newcomb College’s pottery decorators are given the designation of craftsmen, recognizing their level of talent and indicating the importance of the individual artist.

1909 – Jewelry making becomes part of the crafts curriculum under the direction of Mary Williams Butler. Lota Lee Troy joins the art department faculty. Sales at the Pottery enterprise reach $56,000.


1910 – Paul Cox joins the Pottery enterprise and takes over technical direction of the ceramic studio due to Joseph Meyer’s failing health. He develops Newcomb’s hallmark, matt glaze that ushers in the “Southern romanticism” of popular literature. Designs are sculpted in low relief illustrating a greater depth of field. With his arrival, Mary Sheerer is less involved with the technical side of the Pottery and more involved with teaching.

1911 – Embroidery and metalwork are given increasing attention in the 1910-11 school year. Scenic landscapes of moss-draped deciduous trees begin to dominate the crafts decoration. “Palms, pines and Southern flora were in evidence in the decorative scheme of everything, from the lamps, embroidery and pictures to the less expensive Christmas cards and calendars.”[5]

1913 – Bookbinding is added to the curriculum under the supervision of Lota Lee Troy. Techniques taught are based on traditions established in the Renaissance.

1915 – Newcomb Art School is awarded the grand prize for its model room display at the Panama-Pacific Exposition. It is the last Arts and Crafts expositions in which the Pottery enterprise will participate. Arrival of WWI shifts priorities, allowing women to explore new employment opportunities.

1918 – Newcomb College moves to final home on Broadway Street campus, adjacent to Tulane University. The metalwork and jewelry venture reports record sales items such as bracelets, napkin rings, tie pins, cuff links, rings, mailboxes, doorbell plates, pitchers, chalices, and bowls. Total sale for metalwork in single year is over $2,000.

Paul Cox resigns from Newcomb to work as a ceramic consultant for a grinding wheel plant in France. Brandt V.B. Dixon, the school’s first and only president, retires.


1925 – Mary Sheerer is sent to France by the United States government to attend the International Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris. The term “Art Deco” is derived from this event. She returns praising the new design aesthetic of “straight and right-angled lines.”

1926 – Espanol motif is first reaction to “moderne” expression. Design is based on Woodward’s discovery of a mantelpiece in a French Quarter house built under Louisiana’s Spanish-Colonial rule.

1927 – Joseph Meyer retires from Newcomb and is replaced by Jonathan Browne Hunt.

1929 – Kenneth E. Smith joins Newcomb Art School to supervise the technical direction of the Pottery. on the faculty until 1946. For first time, pottery with naturalistic motifs is rejected for an exhibition. America enters the Great Depression, and sales of Newcomb Pottery slow.


1931 – Ellsworth Woodward and Mary Sheerer retire after serving Newcomb for 46 years and 37 years, respectively. Lota Lee Troy appointed director of Newcomb Art School. Joseph Meyer dies at the age of 83.

1933 – Tulane Board of Administrators directs Pottery enterprise to hold sale, reducing inventory by 30% – 40%.

1934 – Gertrude Roberts Smith retires after 47 years of service. Embroidery classes removed from curriculum.

1936 – Lota Lee Troy reports sale has so depleted stock they either close the Pottery or need a subvention. With view to closing the enterprise, Board of Administrators recommends waiting one year before reviewing the Pottery’s status.

1937 – Newcomb College celebrates it fiftieth birthday.

1939 – Board reviews the Pottery’s standing. Newcomb’s dean, Frederick Hard, recommends the continuation of ceramic program only, insisting emphasis be on the instruction of students and not a commercial enterprise. Newcomb Pottery enterprise is closed at the end of the 1939-1940 academic year.


1940 – Robert Durant “Robin” Field is appointed Director of the Newcomb Art School. Feild distances himself from the former Pottery enterprise, instead wishing to create a more diverse program. He restructures the undergraduate curriculum to embrace new art forms such as film.

1942 – Tulane’s Board of Administrators approves proposal by Kenneth Smith for limited, commercially oriented craft program, keeping in spirit of original Newcomb Pottery. Newcomb mark is revived and placed on bottom of ceramic pieces that are now glazed with finishes that bear names places and things indigenous to the area – Gulf Stream, Lichen Ware, Monks Ware, Rain Ware, Warbler Ware, etc. Newcomb Guild pottery gains national recognition through Field’s extensive connections but is unable to make significant sales.

1952 – Activities of Newcomb Guild terminated.


[1] “The Newcomb Art Building and Other Improvements Planned by the College,” Daily-Picayune, July 19, 1894, New Orleans, LA; 3.

[2] Jessie J. Poesch with Sally Main, Newcomb Pottery and Crafts: An Educational Enterprise for Women, 1895-1940, (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.), 2003; 21.

[3] “Through Women’s Eyes – The Art Exhibit,” Daily-Picayune, March 31, 1897, New Orleans, LA; 3.

[4] “Plans for the New Newcomb Building, The Two-Story Structure to House the Pottery,” Daily-Picayune, September 19, 1901, New Orleans, LA.

[5] “Art Lovers Please at Newcomb Exhibit, Annual Sale Conducted by the Alumnae Attracts Large Crowd,” Daily Picayune, December 4, 1915, New Orleans, LA; 17.