George Ohr as a young man sported a very long mustache, for which he is still known today.

GEO OHR'S GROCERY depicting George with three generations of the Ohr family, including his wife Josephine, his parents George and Johanna, and sisters Wilhelmina, Emma and Louisa, and others.

An early studio portrait of George Ohr as a young man, in a suit, with vest and neck tie and a very long mustache.

"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

On October 12, 1894, a fire ravaged Biloxi destroying George Ohr's studio and the majority of Ohr's work. The pieces or "burned babies" lost in the fire stayed with Ohr for the remainder of his life.

"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." - George E. Ohr

Ohr was known for his clever signage used at his studio and world's fairs to promote his work. The sign "Get a Biloxi souvenir before the potter dies, or gets a reputation" is an example of one of his marketing techniques.

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 displayed his pottery at several world's fairs, including the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895. Ohr was exposed to ceramics from the most innovative potteries throughout the world.

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."

"I have a notion that I am a mistake-missfit. Suppose 5 hen eggs were put under a brood and somebody somewhere made a mistake and got a duck egg in the job lot, that duck is going to be in some very hot aqua." - George Ohr

George Ohr stands before his newly constructed Biloxi Art Pottery building and holds a large elaborately folded piece of unfired (bisque) pottery.

After the birth of his first two children, George Edgar Ohr (GEO) decided to make his children's first names correspond with their initials: Leo, Clo, Lio, Oto, Flo, Zio, Ojo and Geo.

Examples of the utilitarian pottery made by Ohr can be seen in the chimney flues and water vessels hanging from the studio beams. Ohr made such items, as well as flower pots, planters and bird feeders, for the local population. This served as a way to support his growing family.

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.

A very dignified studio portrait of George Ohr, posing with a hat and umbrella. One of his family members included the handwritten note.

George Ohr is dressed for studio work. He has always been described as having piercing eyes, evident in this old photograph.

"I found out long ago that it paid me to act this way." - George Ohr, referring to his Mad Potter persona

As he recovered from his losses after the Biloxi fire of 1894, George Ohr’s skills at the pottery wheel exploded into production of the art for which he is known today. The variety and number of pieces produced after the fire are almost inconceivable.

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."

Comments were made during Ohr's lifetime about the strength of his arms from his years at the pottery wheel. The well-developed muscles in his arms can be seen as he leans against a fence in front of his studio.

After the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, Ohr remained for a while in St. Louis to work and sell pottery. Some of the pottery that he made in St. Louis is inscribed "Expo Clay, 1904."

Ohr's pagoda-style Biloxi Art Pottery can be seen in the back right side of the photograph. It faces Delauney Street, which is now named George E. Ohr Street.

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.

George Ohr had been in poor health for years and as he aged his health issues became more serious. After seeking help elsewhere, he returned to Biloxi where he died at 8:19 am on April 7, 1918.

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.

The once stunning Biloxi Art Pottery pagoda-style building had been remodeled as an automobile repair shop around 1910, then later abandoned when the Ohr boys began to move their business in the 1930s. The building was eventually demolished.

Credits: Story

Compiled by Curator Barbara Johnson Ross and her assistant Lilyana Gandour from the collection and archives of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.

Works Cited:

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.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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