"I managed to economize, and in 2 years more, working in New Orleans, I saved up a huge wad of the green stuff which took me 3 hours to count (taking lots of time). I spent more than 3 hours wondering how I was going to have a full-equipped pottery for 2680 cents...As I was an ex-blacksmith, I made the iron work, the clay mill and potter’s wheel. My capital was all put into brick for the kiln. I put up the mill and made clay mortar, and like the mud wasp made my kiln with lime, then with grit and credit; got hold of some pine trees (saw logs). Had`em sawed up on shares, and rafted the lumber about 18 miles down a river. Hauled the lumber all myself and built the first shop all alone. " - George Ohr
"The first year I got enough dimes to cover my frame, but not to fill it up. That was in 1883, the year of the New Orleans Cotton Centennial Exposition. I had over 600 pieces, no two alike, there. It cost me my total year's savings to show up, and as I got the wrong man to attend to the taking away of my ware, stand and fixings, it turned out to be nobody's business and everybody's pottery. Well, I've made some more, and you can't keep a live squirrel on the ground; and the New Orleans Exposition is out of sight, and so are those mud fixings." - George Ohr referring to his stolen pottery after the New Orleans World's Fair
A kiln is in operation behind George Ohr posing with his family. Josephine Ohr stands in front of Oto seated in a pot. Leo stands to Oto's left wearing a straw hat and Clo stands behind him with a hat atop her long dark hair. Lio is sitting in a pot in front of Ohr. Pottery is everywhere, including on the fence in the background.
George Ohr became active as an artist in 1879, when he began his apprenticeship with Joseph Fortune Meyer in New Orleans until he left for two years to visit potteries in other states. Ohr assisted Meyer off and on for several years making pottery at places such as the New Orleans Art Pottery and Sophie Newcomb College.
According to Ohr's autobiography, " . . . when I found the potter’s wheel I felt it all over like a wild duck in water. After knowing how to boss a little piece of clay into a gallon jug I pulled out of New Orleans and took a zigzag trip for 2 years, and got as far as Dubuque, Milwaukee, Albany, down the Hudson, and zigzag back home. I sized up every potter and pottery in 16 states, and never missed a show window, illustration or literary dab on ceramics since that time, 1881."
In his working methods, Ohr had a modern approach. He worked as a one man operation heralding the studio potter movement of the 20th century. Ohr dug and processed his own clay with only the help of his apprentice Henry Portman. He threw all of his own pottery and was responsible for its glazing and decoration. Portman, however, occasionally incised designs on a few pieces.
The editor of "Brick" magazine, after visiting the Biloxi Art Pottery in 1897, wrote, "Each one is an inspiration, and has its own individuality, and he loves and prizes his work to such an extent that he parts with any with the greatest reluctance, and sells only enough to nicely support his interesting family. Were he wealthy no amount of money would tempt him to part with these results of his handiwork."
George Ohr played the cornet in marching bands in Biloxi. According to an oral history from his daughter Clo, Ohr was a musician who played the cornet and violin. "Well . . . my father made floats, his own you see and then he'd get in the parade and he also was in the band. He played violin and cornet . . . yes, very good. They had a band years ago . . . a marching band . . . they had different clubs that they belonged to --- for their dances." His later floats were created as protests.
George Ohr became disillusioned by his lack of success in selling his body of work to a major institution. He wanted to be recognized by having one entity purchase his entire collection. As Ohr was quoted in “Concerning the Biloxi Potteries, The China, Glass, and Pottery Review" 4, “My object is to dispose of the whole collection to one creature or one country… My creations shall not! Will not! And won’t be sold separate.” Around 1910 he packed up his work and asked his heirs to keep his collection until 50 years after his death. His studio building became the Ohr Boys Aut2 Repair Shop.
Around 1910 Ohr packed up his work and asked his heirs to keep his collection until 50 years after his death. His disassembled studio operated as the automobile repair shop. Although he was once well-known in the ceramics world, for the majority of the 20th century Ohr’s work was just a footnote in the history of American art. In the 1970s Ohr's work was rediscovered and widely recognized for its innovative style and mastery over the clay medium.
After Ohr's death, Josephine Ohr sold a few pots over the years before her death in 1930. Lyle Saxon of New Orleans' "The Times Picayune" visited Josephine in 1922 and wrote the following, "… What will be the fate of this collection? Will it be scattered, sold for a song?" At Josephine's death, the treasures passed to her five surviving children and eventually the entire body of work was sold to Jim Carpenter who introduced it to the contemporary art world.
Compiled by Curator Barbara Johnson Ross and her assistant Lilyana Gandour from the collection and archives of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.
Clark, Garth, Ellison, Robert A. Jr., Hecht, Eugene. "The Mad Potter of Biloxi: The Art and Life of George E. Ohr." New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1989.
Ellison, Robert with Martin Edelburg. "George Ohr, Art Potter: The Apostle of Individuality." London: Scala Publishers, 2006.
Hecht, Eugene. "After the Fire, George Ohr: An American Genius." Lambertville, NJ: Arts and Crafts Quarterly Press, 1994.
Hecht, Eugene. "George Ohr: The Greatest Art Potter on Earth." New York: Skira Rizzoli Publications, 2013.