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By Kate Bonansinga



“Mary Given Sheerer, c. 1906-1920”, June 26, 1910, The Illustrated Sunday Magazine of The New Orleans Daily Picayune. cover: Mary Given Sheerer, Vase with JLN Medallion Design, 1897. Sgraffito with glossy finish on white clay body, 7 x 3 1/8 x 3 1.8 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.



Over a century ago Newcomb College

Sheerer studied at the Art Academy of

empowered Mary Given Sheerer (1865-

Cincinnati, which was at the time part of

1954) to be a ceramic decorator, a

the Cincinnati Museum Association, and

manager of Newcomb Pottery, and a

began cultivating the creative talent that

professor during a historical period when

she would eventually bring to Newcomb

independent professional success was

Pottery. From 1890-1894 Sheerer taught

the exception rather than the rule for

at Miss Armstrong’s School for Girls in

women. This essay intends to demonstrate

Avondale, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati,

Sheerer’s accomplishments as a person of

where she honed her skills as an educator. iii

influence in the context of the American

At a very young age she asserted her ability

art pottery movement of the late 19th and

to earn a living during a time when very few

early 20th centuries.

women did that.

Sheerer was born in 1865 in Covington,

Cincinnati’s Rookwood Pottery, arguably

Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from

the most prolific and important art pottery

Cincinnati, Ohio, but resided in New

in the United States, was founded by artist

Orleans, Louisiana for most her life. By

Maria Longworth Nichols (1849-1932),

1870 Sheerer was living in New Orleans

granddaughter of real estate man and

First Ward with her parents, two sisters

winemaker Nicholas Longworth (1783-

and two servants. Her family’s estate was

1863), and heiress to both his fortune and

estimated at $75,000 (about $1.5 million

his entrepreneurial spirit. Nichols was an

in 2019 dollars.) i Her father eventually

amateur ceramic decorator in the 1870s.

faced financial hardship and passed away

In 1880 she launched Rookwood, named

in 1883. In 1886 Sheerer’s mother, who

after her father’s estate, and managed it for

was once described as a “noted belle of

a decade.

Kentucky,” moved herself and her children back to Covington, Kentuckyii It seems

Nichols recruited Boston-based painter

that an interest in high society did not

Frank Duveneck, who was considered to

transfer from mother to daughter, the

be one of the finest art teachers in the

latter of whom never married, but studied,

nation, to teach in Cincinnati. Both she and

worked and supported herself her entire

Sheerer were enrolled in his first painting

adult life. Between 1888 and 1890

class in Cincinnati in 1890, so it seems 3

Taylor (1847-1913), who Nichols had

that Sheerer and Nichols must have been introduced to one another in that context.


hired as manager in 1883, then received

Rookwood’s decorative motifs include

a controlling interest in the plant. Taylor

flora and fauna, which may have inspired

incorporated and by at least 1903

Sheerer to implement a similar scheme at

Rookwood was paying dividends to its

Newcomb. Plus, Rookwood served as a

shareholders. vii Taylor maintained a profit

defacto department of ceramics of the Art

motive, while also carrying on Nichols’

Academy of Cincinnati, where Sheerer was

legacy of experimentation and artistic

a student.



This business-for-profit intent of Rookwood Pottery differentiated it from Newcomb Pottery, which was founded as a teaching department of Newcomb College of Tulane University in 1895. Ellsworth Woodward (1861-1939), director of the Newcomb Department of Art, was the Pottery’s first director. He encouraged Newcomb College President Brandt V.B. Dixon (1850-1941) to hire Sheerer as an instructor, a position that she accepted beginning in 1894, just before the Newcomb Pottery opened. viii Dixon reached Sheerer by contacting the Art Academy of Cincinnati in search of talent. ix Mary Given Sheerer, artist, Joseph Fortune Meyer, potter, Plate with Spanish Dagger Yucca Design, 1907. Glossy glaze on incised clay body, 2 x 13 x 13 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; Gift of Miss Floy Maddox.

But the formal connection between Rookwood and academia ends there. The Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889 established American art pottery on the world stage and awarded a gold medal to Rookwood exhibits. vi In 1891, just after Rookwood’s reputation went global, Nichols retired. William Watts 4

Medal from the Exposition Universalle de 1900, Paris.

From the time she was hired at Newcomb College, Sheerer steadily advanced her career; she quickly became Assistant Professor of Art; from 1904-06 she was Professor of Ceramic Decoration x; from 1907-1931 Professor of Pottery and China Decoration. In 1908 Sheerer requested, and Woodward recommended, that she be conferred with the title Assistant Director of the Pottery, which President Dixon readily agreed to. xi This is one example of Sheerer’s confidence in her own capabilities, and in the College’s supportiveness of them. Sheerer’s academic interest in Rookwood continued in the 20th century. In 1904 both Rookwood and Newcomb exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. In 1923 Sheerer visited Rookwood Pottery during her time in Pennsylvania and Ohio, a trip motivated by her attendance at the American Ceramic Society Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh in February of that year. xii Sheerer served as Chair of the Society’s Art Division from 1924-1927: it is fair to assume that she earned this position because of her leadership at Newcomb Pottery. About the Pittsburgh meeting she scribed, “…the vital point of the meeting, to my mind, was that the technician and the artist were each feeling the need of the other…the art division is only two or three years old. The artist was not included before that time….” xiii Artists such as Sheerer brought a spirit of experimentation and willingness to take risks with materials and imagery. This

Mary Given Sheerer, artist, Jules Gabry, potter, Plate with Newcomb Fountain and Oak Design, c. 18941901. Underpainted glossy glaze on white clay body, 1 x 8.5 x 8.5 in.Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; Gift of Miss Emma Keen in memory of Alice Bowman.

approach may have moved Newcomb forward from a focus on function to a focus on image and meaning. Artist decorators broke from industry to create true works of art. Both Maria Longworth Nichols and Sheerer championed ceramic decorators as artists who conceptualized their own motifs. Another influential Cincinnatian who Sheerer counted as an acquaintance was Joseph Henry Gest (1859-1935). Gest served as a member of the board of directors of Rookwood Pottery and as director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, which was, with the Art Academy of Cincinnati, part of the Cincinnati Museum Association. Correspondence between


spanned decades, as did her connection to and knowledge of Cincinnati and its art community. In addition to the Sheerer vase in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Newcomb Art Museum owns five pieces by Sheerer, and three others that may have been created by her. A milestone in Sheerer’s career as an artist and as an educator and decorator at Newcomb Pottery was her visit to Paris in order to attend the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes as a delegate of the United States. The United States had declined France’s invitation Vase, 1898 (ceramic) Sheerer, Mary (18951954) Credit: Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio, USACincinnati Art Museum/Gift of the Artist/ Bridgeman Images

to participate in the Exposition. Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, appointed a Commission to attend the Exposition to report its

Gest and Sheerer in 1900 confirms that

observations, in part for the benefit of

Sheerer intended to send examples of

American manufacturers and in part to

Newcomb pottery to the Cincinnati Art

assuage France’s disappointment in the

Museum for exhibition, but chose not

United States’ decision not to participate. xvi

to due to an unsuccessful firing. xiv In

The Commission consisted of Charles

1923 Sheerer asked Gest to serve as a

Russell Richards (Director of the American

professional reference when she was

Association of Museums), Henry Creange

being courted for employment by another

(Art Director of Cheney Brothers),

institution. xv In 1898 Sheerer donated a

and Frank G. Holmes (Art Director of

piece of Newcomb pottery that she had

Lenox, Inc.). The three commissioners,

decorated to the Cincinnati Art Museum;

in turn, invited most of the important

in 1939 she donated a Newcomb vase

trade associations in the United States

dated 1910 and decorated by Sadie

to nominate delegates. Ninety-two

Irvine. Clearly, her patronage of Cincinnati

individuals were nominated, and all were


appointed by the Commission. In addition,

well. xviii In fact, it may have been Sheerer

the commissioners appointed forty-nine

who implemented the focus on plant life

delegates-at-large. Sheerer was one of the

at Newcomb due to her knowledge of

delegates nominated by a trade association,

Rookwood’s success with that subject

appointed due to her leadership position in


the American Ceramic Society. Ultimately, a total of 108 delegates traveled to Paris. Three were women.


One can only

Sheerer engaged in professional and artistic development throughout her

speculate that Sheerer was empowered by

career. For example, in 1913 Tulane


University President Dixon wrote to Frank D. Fackentha, Secretary, Columbia

Upon her return from Paris, Sheerer

University, New York, NY to recommend

presented to numerous audiences about

Sheerer for study of chemistry during a

her impressions of the Exposition, including

year-long leave from Newcomb, another

those in attendance at the American

gesture of Newcomb’s support of Sheerer’s

Ceramic Society Annual Meeting in

professional welfare and performance. xx

Atlanta in 1926. Sheerer encouraged the

During her tenure at Newcomb, Sheerer

Newcomb decorators to emulate the Art

studied with Arthur W. Dow in Ipswich, NY.

Deco style, with its use of geometric abstraction and rhythmic pattern. xix This resulted in an entirely new and more geometric style at Newcomb. Though Newcomb was committed to local imagery that celebrated the vernacular and the plant life of the Southern United States, Sheerer did

Mary Sheerer with class, c.1900. Newcomb Archives and Nadine Robbert Vorhoff Collection, Newcomb Institute, Tulane University.

not limit herself to this. She apprised

She brought back Dow’s graphic sensibility

herself of national and international artistic

to Newcomb. She spent at least one

trends, and encouraged the Newcomb

summer in Ogunquit, Maine studying with

decorators to pay attention to them, as

Charles H. Woodbury. xxi She became a 7

Fellow of the American Ceramic Society in

(Though both Woodward and Newcomb

1931. All of this professional activity, from

Dean Pierce Butler recommended that

philanthropy to international travel, points

Sheerer be reappointed for the 1931/32

to Sheerer’s ambition and influence, some

academic year because, in the words of Woodward, “it will not be easy to fill her place and keep up the prestige of the work,” the Board denied the request.) xxiv Sheerer was named Professor of Pottery, Emeritus in 1932. xxv All records indicate that she supported herself entirely through her work at Newcomb. This financial independence probably served as an inspiring example for the other Newcomb decorators. Throughout her years in New Orleans, Sheerer maintained connections to the Cincinnati area. She was a charter member of the Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati

Mary Given Sheerer,, artist, Joseph Fortune Meyer, potter, Double Handled Jar with Arrowhead Design, c. 1896-1897. White, yellow, green, and black slip, glossy finish on buff clay body, 9 x 7.25 x 7.25 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; Museum Purchase through the Mignon Faget Acquisition Fund.

and exhibited with that group 1893-5. Upon her retirement from Newcomb, Sheerer returned to Cincinnati and became active with the Club once again. For example, in 1933 she presented the lecture The So-Called Minor Arts to the

of which shaped the success of Newcomb

Club. xxvi Why she chose to spend her

Pottery. For her work at Newcomb Sheerer earned $2,250 per year from 1921/22 until 1926/27 and $2,400 per year from 1927/28 until1931. xxii This was a stable and adequate income: 1921 average income for a gainfully employed person was $1,537.00 per year. xxiii Sheerer retired from Newcomb in 1931 with retirement benefits from both the Carnegie Foundation and from Newcomb College. 8

“The Decorators at Work in the Pottery” appearing in “Newcomb School of Art: Its Relation to Art Industries” by Charles Bennett, Vocational Education, November 1913, p. 121.

final years in Cincinnati is not completely


clear. All evidence indicates that Sheerer

i. Main, Sally,“Biographical Notes on Sixty Newcomb Pottery Decorators,” in Conradsen, David, et. al, The Arts and Crafts of Newcomb Pottery. New Orleans, LA; Tulane University, 2013, 315.

was fulfilled by her life as an artist in New Orleans and that she was treated well by her colleagues at Tulane and at Newcomb: the men who supervised her championed her at every stage of her development. Two motivating forces may have been that the art community of Cincinnati welcomed and valued her, and that her sister Nan resided in Cincinnati. Sheerer self-identified as a “Bachelor Girl” and the company of a sibling may have had a strong pull. xxvii The sisters

ii. The obituary of Mrs. Mary Pryor Sheerer, Mary Given Sheerer’s mother, states that she was “the daughter of the late Judge Pryor of Covington, and in her girlhood was a noted belle of Kentucky.” Times Democrat, August 24, 1907. iii. Sheerer, Mary Given, Who’s Who in Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati, History Collection, Archives and Manuscripts, Cincinnati Museum Center, 0654_001 pdf. Mss qW872ac Woman’s Art Club. iv. Ellis, Anita J., The Ceramic Career of M. Louise McLaughlin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2003, 119.

through teaching and management at

v. One example of the institutional alliance between Rookwood and the Art Academy was Rookwood’s hire of O.W. Beck part-time in 1897. Beck was a professor at the Art Academy and critiqued Rookwood’s wares and designs once per week. Cincinnati Art Museum Archive, Cincinnati Art and Artists, Rookwood Pottery, CAA/03/01, RG3 Series 1 Box 1 Folder 1.

Newcomb Pottery, and through exhibitions,

vi. Ibid.

lectures and philanthropy in Cincinnati.

vii. Cincinnati Art Museum Archive, Cincinnati Art and Artists, Rookwood Pottery, CAA/03/01 , Minutes of the Rookwood Pottery including Articles of Incorporation, 1890-1934.

lived together until Nan’s death. (Sheerer never owned a home.) In any case, Sheerer impacted the art and artists of her time

Newcomb Pottery ceased operations in 1940; Sheerer had contributed to its success for 36 years of its 45 year history. (Rookwood Pottery filed for bankruptcy soon thereafter in 1941, to be purchased and revived later.) Sheerer is buried next to

viii. Poesch, Jessie, “The Art Program at Newcomb College and the Newcomb Pottery, 1886-1940,” Susan Tucker and Beth Willinger, Editors, Newcomb College, 1886-2006: Higher Education for Women in New Orleans. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 168.

ix. H.A. Foster, Clerk, responded, “My dear Sir: The note of inquiry….has been received…find pleasure in Cemetery in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky, about a recommending you to a former student of this school for your work—Miss Sheerer has been shown your five mile drive from downtown Cincinnati. letter and will write to you.” Undated, handwritten correspondence on Cincinnati Museum Association Art Academy letterhead, Mary G. Sheerer Vertical File, University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, New Orleans, LA.

her sister Nan and her parents in Highland

x. Mary G. Sheerer Vertical File, University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, New Orleans, LA. xi. Letter from Director E. Woodward to Dr. B.V.B. Dixon, January 31, 1908, Ellsworth Woodward Vertical File, University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, New Orleans, LA. xii. Ellsworth Woodward Vertical File, University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections, HowardTilton Memorial Library, New Orleans, LA. xiii. Mary G. Sheerer Vertical File, University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, New Orleans, LA. xiv. Cincinnati Art Museum Archive, Cincinnati Art Museum Collection, Directors’ Records, Joseph Henry


Gest Collection, CAM/02/05. xv. On August 21, 1923 Sheerer wrote a letter to Gest from Ogunquit, ME, where she was studying at for the summer, to share the news,” Recently a letter from a Teachers Agency stated that I had been recommended for head of an Art Department in one of the Southern colleges…I gave your name as a reference…” Cincinnati Art Museum Archive, Cincinnati Art Museum Collection, Directors’ Records, Joseph Henry Gest Collection, CAM/02/05. See http://tfaoi.com/newsmu/nmus104a.htm for more information on Charles H. Woodbury and the Ogunquit Summer School of Drawing and Painting. xvi. Friedman, Marilyn F., “The United States and the 1925 Paris Exposition: Opportunity Lost and Found,” Studies in the Decorative Arts, Vol. 13, No. 1, Fall/Winter 2005-2006. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Bard Graduate Center, 94. Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40663212. Accessed July 22, 2019. xvii. Report of Commission Appointed by the Secretary of Commerce to Visit and Report upon the International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Art in Paris 1925, 5-11. Courtesy of Herbert Hoover Archives, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa, Commerce Papers, Box 153, Folder 7. xiiii. American Ceramic Journal, Vol. XI, 2009. Williamsburg, VA: American Ceramic Circle, 136. xix. Rookwood, on the other hand, was more global in its sources of imagery. For example, in 1887 Nichols hired Kataro Shirayamandani, a decorator from Japan. (He worked at Rookwood until 1948, the year of his death.) Rookwood decorative motifs ranged from American Indian portraits to birds and flowers of Japonisme. xx. Dixon stated, “This will be handed to you by and will serve to introduce Miss Sheerer, who is the lady in charge of the Newcomb art pottery and who is responsible for the greater share of its success. She is now away on her year’s leave of absence and desires to avail herself of the opportunity offered in your University or in Barnard College for the special study of chemistry, believing it will be of value to her work. I cordially recommend Miss Sheerer to you as an earnest student and an artist of excellent ability…”Ellsworth Woodward Vertical File, University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, New Orleans, LA. xxi. Sheerer, Mary Given, Who’s Who in Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati, History Collection, Archives and Manuscripts, Cincinnati Museum Center, 0654_001 pdf. Mss qW872ac Woman’s Art Club. xxii. Mary G. Sheerer Vertical File, University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, New Orleans, LA. xxiii. http://www.nber.org/newsbulletin/ newsbulletin/feb21_1927.pdf. Accessed July 9, 2019. xixv. Mary G. Sheerer Vertical File, University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, New Orleans, LA. xxv. Mary G. Sheerer Vertical File, University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, New Orleans, LA. Sheerer retired with an allowance of 300.00 per year from Newcomb College and $1050 per year from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. xxvi. Times Star, Tuesday, April 11, 1933, History Collection, Archives and Manuscripts, Cincinnati Museum Center. 0659_001 pdf, Mss qW872ac Woman’s Art Club

Mary Given Sheerer, artist, Joseph Fortune Meyer, potter, Coaster, blue berries, c. 1896-1897. glossy glaze on white clay body, 0.5 x 5 x 5 in., Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; Gift of Mr. Clayton M. Perkins, Jr. from the estate of his wife, Carolyn Doan King Perkins.

xxvii. Sheerer, Mary Given, Who’s Who in Women’s Art Club of Cincinnati, Ohio, History Collection, Archives and Manuscripts, Cincinnati Museum Center, Mss qW872ac, Woman’s Art Club, Box 9.


ABOUT KATE BONANSINGA Kate Bonansinga is Director, School of Art, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning at University of Cincinnati. She is also a curator of contemporary art who focuses on art created from craft media. She has curated exhibitions such as Unraveled: Challenging Textile Traditions (2016) (Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati), Staged Stories: Renwick Craft Invitational: 2009 (Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.) and Multiplicity: Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture (traveled 2006-7). From 2004-2012 Bonansinga was founding director of Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for Visual Art at The University of Texas, El Paso where she established an undergraduate minor in museum studies and taught courses in curatorial practice. Her experience there is the subject of her book Curating at the Edge: Artists Respond to the U.S./Mexico Border (University of Texas Press, 2014).


NEWCOMB POTTERY TIMELINE 1880s 1884 New Orleans Cotton Centennial opens in the Uptown section of the city. Tulane University professors, William Woodward and John M. Ordway, offer drawing and mechanical training demonstrations at the exposition. Other lectures and exhibitions include a women’s department, headed by

“The Whole World Pays Respect to Miss Ne w Orleans,” January 1, 1885, Cotton Centennial Exposition broadside. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum.

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 led 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 first women’s coordinate college within a United States university

Josephine Louise LeMonnier Newcomb, c. 1900. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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 12

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.

1890s 1892 Owing to increased enrollment, Newcomb College outgrows its first home and moves into former RobbBurnside mansion located in the city’s Garden District. The property encompasses an entire city block and is bound by Washington

The main entrance to the original expanded Robb-Burnside Mansion, seen here in 1906 as Sophie Newcomb College. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Avenue, Sixth, Chestnut, and Camp streets. The art department and gallery share space on the second floor with the chapel.

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 The art building is erected on the 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


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 the working of the Rookwood Pottery. Influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement, Sheerer and Woodward setguidelines for the enterprise’s crafts – designs are to be of indigenous vegetation and wildlife with no design duplicated. Each

Mary Sheerer with class, c.1900. Newcomb Archives and Nadine Robbert Vorhoff Collection, Newcomb Institute, Tulane University.

piece 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


Emilie de Hoa LeBlanc, artist; Jules Gabry, potter, Vase with Pecan Design, c. 1899-1900. Underglaze painting withglosssy glaze, 93/4 x 55/8 in.Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; gift of Clayton M. Perkins from the estate of Carolyn Doan King Perkins.

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 the first Newcomb students to attend Arthur Wesley Dow’s summer school in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Design aesthetic of the pottery changes from painterly renderings to flat forms with conventionalized, bold outlines. The association with Ipswich lasts until 1906. 14

1901 The 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 and 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 an object was sold. Woodward receives permission from Tulane Board of Administrators to set up a fund from the proceeds of crafts sales that allows the College to pay decorators a percentage of the total sale price for each finished object. The decorators income is reported between $15 to $40 per month.


Harriet Coulter Joor, Artist; Joseph Meyer, Potter, Vase with Stylized Jonquil Design, c. 1903. Incised, with underglaze painting and glossy glaze on buff clay body, 181/4 in. Collection of the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, purchase through the generosity of Mrs. Arthur (Harriet) Jung, the Ernestine Bass Hopkins Endowed Fund, and the Evelyn Chumo Newcomb Pottery Fund

The 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

The Newcomb Pottery Building. Newcomb Archives and Nadine Robbert Vorhoff Collection, Newcomb Institute, Tulane University.

under the direction of Gertrude Roberts Smith. Surface decoration on pottery now incorporates incised lines. Experimentation with pierced, brass lampshades begins. 15

1904 The Art School receives a silver medal at the 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 are reported at $4,500.


The Newcomb Art Alumnae Association established scholarships funded from the sale of alumna art. Newcomb Archives and Nadine Robbert Vorhoff Collection, Newcomb Institute, Tulane University.

1906 The Newcomb Art Alumnae Association is formed under the auspices of the Newcomb Alumnae Association. Beginning in 1908, the 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

Maude Robinson, artist, Joseph Meyer, potter, Vase with Bamboo Design, c. 1907, Incised and slightly sculpted, 77/8 x 4 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.


1909 Jewelry making becomes part of the crafts curriculum under the direction of Mary Williams Butler. Sales at the Pottery enterprise reach $56,000. 16

Miriam Flora Levy, Cameo bracelet, c. 1920-1925, Lava stone on rose gold, 61/2 x 1 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

1910-1920 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, matte glaze that ushers in the “Southern romanticism” of popular literature. Designs are sculpted in low relief illustrating a greater depth of field. With his

Elizabeth Antoinette Horner, artist, Joseph Meyer, potter, Sugar Bowl with Crown of Thorns Design, 1914, green and blue underglaze with low relief sculpting and matte finish on clay body, 4 x 51/2 x 41/2 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

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, who joined the faculty in 1909. 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 exposition in which the

Elizabeth Goelet Roger, Lamp Shade with Magnolia Design, c. 1902, Pierced brass and copper, 7 x 14 x 14 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University. Esther Huger Elliot, artist; Joseph Meyer, potter, Lamp Base with Cat’s Claw Design, 1901, Buff clay body, 91/2 x 67/8 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

Pottery enterprise will participate. Arrival of WWI shifts priorities, allowing women to explore new employment opportunities.


1918 Newcomb College moves to its 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 for the 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 A metal-working student. Newcomb Archives and Nadine Robbert Vorhoff Collection, Newcomb Institute, Tulane University.

president, retires.

1920-1930 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 the first reaction to “moderne”

Anna Frances Simpson, artist, Joseph Meyer, potter, Vase with Espanol Design, c. 1926. Matte glaze on sculpted clay body, 93/4 x 4 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; gift of Mrs. Sidney J. (Walda) Besthoff.

expression. The design is based on Woodward’s discovery of a mantelpiece in a French Quarter house built under Louisiana’s SpanishColonial rule.

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


Corinne Marie Chalaron, artist, Joseph Meyer, potter, Bowl with Tiered Abstract Leaf Design, c. 1925-26. Low-relief carving, underglaze with matte glaze, 4x 9 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

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.

1930-1940 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 the Pottery enterprise to hold a sale, reducing inventory by 30% – 40%.


Aurelia Arbo, artist, Jonathan Browne Hunt, potter, Cachepot with Stylized Leaf Design, c. 1931. Low-relief carving with applied ornament; green glossy glaze, 63/8 x 55/8 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

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

1936 Lota Lee Troy reports the sale has so depleted stock that they should either close the Pottery or need a subvention. With a view to closing the enterprise, the Board of Administrators recommends waiting one year before reviewing the Pottery’s status. An embroidary class at Newcomb; embroidery classes were removed from the curriculum in 1934. Newcomb Archives and Nadine Robbert Vorhoff Collection, Newcomb Institute, Tulane University.


1939 The board reviews the Pottery’s standing. Newcomb’s dean, Frederick Hard, recommends the continuation of the 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.

1940-1952 1940 Robert Durant “Robin” Field is appointed as

Newcomb Guild, Vase, Gulf Rain Ware, c. 19411952. Glossy glaze on clay body, 51/2 x 41/2 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

the Director of the Newcomb Art School. Field 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.forms such as film.

1942 Tulane’s Board of Administrators approves proposal by Kenneth Smith for limited,

The identifying Newcomb Mark, a system of registration that included the Newcomb glyph (an N enclosed in a C), was revived in 1942.

commercially oriented craft program, keeping in spirit of original Newcomb Pottery. Newcomb mark is revived and placed on bottom of ceramic

Notes: 1.

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.



“The Newcomb Art Building and Other Improvements Planned by the College,” Daily-Picayune, July 19, 1894, New Orleans, LA; 3. Jessie J. Poesch with Sally Main, Newcomb Pottery and Crafts: An Educational Enterprise for Women, 1895-1940, (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.), 2003; 21. “Through Women’s Eyes – The Art Exhibit,” Daily-Picayune, March 31, 1897, New Orleans, LA; 3. “Plans for the New Newcomb Building, The Two-Story Structure to House the Pottery,” Daily-Picayune, September 19, 1901, New Orleans, LA. “Art Lovers Please at Newcomb Exhibit, Annual Sale Conducted by the Alumnae Attracts Large Crowd,” Daily Picayune, December 4, 1915, New Orleans, LA; 17.

ABOUT THE MUSEUM The Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University builds on the Newcomb College legacy of education, social enterprise, and artistic experience. Presenting inspiring exhibitions and programs that engage communities both on and off campus, the Museum fosters the creative exchange of ideas and cross-disciplinary collaborations around innovative art and design. The Museum preserves and advances scholarship on the Newcomb and Tulane art collections. The museum presents original exhibitions and programs that explore socially engaged art, civic dialogue, and community transformation. The Museum also pays tribute to its heritage through shows that recognize the contributions of women to the fields of art and design. As an entity of an academic institution, the Newcomb Art Museum presents exhibitions that utilize the critical frameworks of diverse disciplines in conceptualizing and interpreting art and design. By presenting issues relevant to Tulane and the greater New Orleans region, the Museum also serves as a gateway between on and off campus constituencies. The Newcomb Art Museum is located in the Woldenberg Art Center on Tulane University’s Uptown Campus. Admission to the museum is free and open to the public; Tuesday - Friday 10 am to 5 pm; Saturday 11 am to 4 pm with free Newcomb Pottery Collection tours on the first Friday of each month at 12 pm. Call 504.865.5328, email museum@tulane.edu or go online to newcombartmuseum.tulane.edu to learn more.

Image by Christa Rock



Tulane University 6823 St. Charles Avenue New Orleans, LA 70118 NewcombArtMuseum.Tulane.edu 504.865.5328

Profile for Newcomb Art Museum

Newcomb in Paris: Mary Given Sheerer and the American Art Pottery Movement  

Newcomb in Paris: Mary Given Sheerer and the American Art Pottery Movement