History of Newcomb Pottery

History of Newcomb Pottery

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Newcomb Pottery is a significant part of American art history, representing the intersection of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Japanese art and New Orleans women's pioneering spirit. It was established in 1895 at Newcomb College, a women's college in New Orleans, Louisiana. The pottery program aimed to provide vocational training for women during a period were careers were limited.

Throughout its nearly 30-year existence, Newcomb Pottery produced various decorative objects, including vases, bowls, candlesticks and tiles. The program became recognized as one of the leading pottery studios in the United States. The college featured the pottery at numerous exhibitions, including the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

1. How Is Newcomb Pottery Defined?

Newcomb Pottery is a type of pottery produced by the pottery program at Newcomb College from 1895 to 1939. One of the defining features of Newcomb Pottery is its use of matte glazes. Unlike traditional pottery, which often features glossy, reflective surfaces, Newcomb Pottery has a soft, velvety texture. The glazes were created using local materials, such as clay and minerals. The pottery was fired at a low temperature to achieve the desired effect.

In terms of design, you can characterize Newcomb Pottery by its intricate, nature-inspired motifs. The pottery also often featured the initials of the artist who created it.

2. History of Newcomb Pottery

Various factors influenced the pottery design, including the Arts and Crafts Movement, Japanese art and Southern cultural traditions. These influences helped to shape the pottery's distinctive style.

Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement, known in the U.S. as the Mission Style, emerged in the late 19th century. It started in the United Kingdom with John Ruskin and William Morris. They promoted the movement to counter to industrial revolution at the time. Newcomb Pottery embodies the ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement by emphasizing traditional craftsmanship and its use of natural materials.

Japanese Art

One of the most significant influences on Newcomb Pottery was Japanese art. At the time, Japanese art was becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Newcomb Pottery was mainly influenced by the Japanese decoration style known as aestheticism, which emphasized natural forms and patterns. This influence can be seen in the intricate, nature-inspired designs that characterize Newcomb Pottery.

Southern Culture

The traditions of Southern culture also influenced Newcomb Pottery, as many artists were from the area. The pottery's designs often featured local flora, fauna and traditional Southern motifs. The local magnolia blossoms and Spanish moss are examples of references to the region's natural elements.

In addition, social and cultural influenced Newcomb pottery due to the context of the time. Opportunities for women were limited at the time the pottery program started. The program helped to empower women by giving them the skills and training they needed to succeed in the art world and beyond.

3. Newcomb Pottery Styles and Glazes

Newcomb Pottery is known for its distinctive styles and glazes, which played a significant role in establishing the significance of Newcomb Pottery in American art history.

Styles of Newcomb Pottery

Styles of Newcomb Pottery

There are three main styles, each of which reflects a different period in Newcomb pottery history:

  1. Earliest style (1895-1901): Inspired by Japanese art and the Arts and Crafts Movement, this style has simple, symmetrical designs. The matte glaze is in earthy colors, such as brown, green and blue. Examples include the "Lily Pad" and "Moon and Moss."
  2. Transitional style (1901-1904): During this period, naturalistic designs, such as flowers and foliage, were increased. The patterns are more complex with asymmetrical designs. The artists used matte glazes in various colors, including pink, yellow and purple. Examples include the "Stylized Calla Lily" and "Pecan Design."
  3. Mature style (1904-1940): Here, we see highly naturalistic designs featuring realistic depictions of plants and animals. The complex, asymmetrical designs continue to thrive in this period. The glaze selection grows to include vibrant blues, greens and yellows. Examples include the "American Pillar Swamp Rose" and "Lotus."

Distinctive Glazes

Newcomb Pottery is also known for its glazes, developed in-house by its artists. These glazes were matte and slightly rough, giving the pottery a tactile quality.

  1. Satsuma glaze: A yellow-green glaze with a slightly iridescent finish. Artists used the glaze primarily in the earliest period of Newcomb Pottery and were inspired by Japanese pottery.
  2. Vellum glaze: A matte, somewhat rough glaze with a soft, velvety texture. The Vellum is a popular glaze introduced in 1904 by Rookwood.
  3. Carved vellum glaze: A technique where you cut into vellum glaze to create textured designs. The method is used primarily in the transitional period of Newcomb Pottery.
  4. High gloss glaze: A shiny, reflective glaze that the artists used sparingly. The artists used it primarily in the mature period.

4. Newcomb Unique Pottery Marks

Newcomb Pottery is known for its intricate motifs and markings that reflect the pottery's connection to the natural world and Southern culture. Carefully crafted motifs and markings by the pottery's artists established the pottery's identity.

Locally Inspired Motifs

There are two main categories for Newcomb Pottery motifs: botanical and animal.

  • Botanical motifs: Uses depictions of flowers, leaves and other plant life. It reflects the pottery's connection to the natural world. Examples exclude "Okra Leaf" and "Palm Tree and Moon."
  • Animal motifs: Depictions of animals, including birds, insects and fish. The motifs show the pottery's connection to Southern culture and the local nature. Examples include "Pelican."

Newcomb College Pottery Marks

These markings were often impressed or incised into the pottery's surface. You can use the markings to trace the history of individual pieces and the artists who created them, contributing to the Newcomb pottery value.

  • Newcomb College Mark: A circular mark that reads "Newcomb College" around the edge and "New Orleans" in the center. Used on pieces made between 1895 and 1940.
  • Artist's Mark: A mark indicating the artist who created the piece. Often accompanied by a date and a shape number. For example, "MJB" (Mary Bourgeois), "JA" (Joseph Meyer), "LH" (Laura Hoptman)
  • Shape Number: A number indicating specific forms, such as vases, bowls and plates.

5. Noteworthy Newcomb Pottery Artists

The Newcomb pottery program was home to a talented group of artists who worked together. These artists were primarily women, with a few exceptions. Some noteworthy potters in this style include:

  • Joseph Meyer: Known as one of the most prolific Newcomb Pottery artists, Joseph created over 2,000 pieces during his time. He was known for his naturalistic depictions of animals and plants and his use of intricate glazes.
  • Sadie Irvine: One of the earliest Newcomb Pottery artists, Sadie joined the pottery in 1896. She was known for her delicate floral motifs and her use of soft, pastel colors. Sadie started the Newcomb Guide after the pottery program closed. The guide unofficially closed when Sadie retired.
  • Henrietta Davidson Bailey: Henrietta was a key figure as she was one of the founders of the pottery and served as its first director. She was responsible for designing many of the pottery's most iconic pieces, including its famous iris motif. Bailey also oversaw the pottery's day-to-day operations, including hiring new artists and managing its finances.

Keep an Eye Out for Newcomb Pottery

One way to find and acquire Newcomb Pottery pieces is through auction sites. Newcomb pottery auctions can be a great way to find rare and unique pieces and a fun and exciting way to engage with the legacy of this historic pottery.

Fontaine's Auction Gallery has a team of specialists working closely with collectors and consignors to bring together collections of fine art, antiques and more.

Check out our upcoming auctions or request an auction estimate for gorgeous antiques from exclusive brands today!