The Newcomb Guild: Facing the Future, 1940-1952

Page 1



By Dr Susan House Wade GUILD:



left to right: Gulf Stream vase, 1941–1952, 7.75 x 4.25 x 4.25 inches; Gulf Stream vase, 1941–1952, 5.75 x 4.375 x 4.375 inches; Gulf Stream bowl, 1941–1952, 6 x 12.875 x 12.875 inches; Gulf Stream ashtray, 1941–1948, 1.5 x 6.25 inches, transfer from the Caroline Richardson Center for Research on Women; Gulf Stream vase, 1941–1952, 5.5 x 4.875 x 4.875 inches, Newcomb Art Museum cover: Gulf Stream vase, 1941–1952, 7.75 x 5.5 x 5.5 inches, Newcomb Art Museum


By Dr Susan House Wade

the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries no longer com manded a position at the forefront of mid 20th century design, although Newcomb ceramic wares had historically enjoyed a role at the very center of the Southern arts and crafts panoply. By the mid 1930s, however, the world was evolving such that an alternative assessment of the arts was deemed requisite. Early Newcomb pottery was not occupying the place that it once had, but it had not yet established the legacy which would cate gorize it as its own historical entity, either.


Had the intrinsically Southern themes featured on Newcomb ceramics begun to lose some of their lustre, after many successful decades of visibility, by the mid to late 1930s? These long celebrated and highly innovative motifs had, by this time, somehow become less satisfying to a market which was becoming increasingly aware of the call to Aestheticsmodernize.whichdominated

The ceramic production of the first few decades of the 20th century sold extremely well, primarily because of the connection to place, and this took the form of familiar, local motifs such as live oak, magnolia, dogwood and lily. Early director of the Newcomb Art School and Southern art influencer Ellsworth Woodward (1861– 1939) once proclaimed, in fact, that there was just as much beauty occurring in the backyards of New Orleans as on the canals of Venice. In 1928, the American Designers’ Gallery was formed in order to promote contempo rary art and design concepts to the North American market. Along these same lines, 1929 saw the Museum of Modern Art in New York begin to showcase “modernist” exhibitions. Chicago hosted its Century of Progress exhibition in 1933 34, and the New York World’s Fair of 1939 emphasized the concepts of modernity and the future with its “Design for Tomorrow” theme. Contemporary furnishings developed by Scandinavian designers, as well as by the likes of American designer Edward Wormley (1907 1995), revolutionized the look and feel of residential life. Indeed, the mid- century American home was under going a period of profound transformation, and this required novel and forward-looking objects for the interior.

The English potter Frederick Hurten Rhead (1880 1942) designed and was subse quently producing the popular and widely available Fiesta tableware (as art director for the Homer Laughlin Company), from 1936. Russel Wright (1904 1976), one of the earliest American industrial designers, was behind American Modern tableware, GUILD: FACING THE FUTURE—1940–1952

Works by Wright and also by Otto (1908 2007) and Gertrude (1908 1971) Natzler, Austrian emigres who arrived in Los Angeles in 1938, also featured in this MoMA show.

Museums, too, played a large part in educating the public, in terms of promoting an understanding of what constituted good taste in line, color and design, while also aiding viewers in the development of taste and appreciation for beautiful objects. It was also at this time that ceramic ware took on a higher and more substantial profile.

4 which created a huge sensation all over the country. The claim that this was the biggest selling popular dinnerware in US history is rarely Wright’sdisputed.creations made huge strides in situating contemporary ceramic table ware within the American household, and Southern California potteries were making and selling simple, unadorned earthenware for everyday use from around the same time. As a result of the widespread mar keting of these stylish, as well as utilitarian pieces, the general public began to appreci ate and enjoy creative, modern design, and this significantly impacted in a very real way the new American lifestyle.

Tastes were changing profoundly, and objects once thought of as compelling bore little similarity to the designs which became popularized in the 1930s, claimed one academic and color theorist in 1935.1

The Museum of Modern Art mounted the Useful Objects in Wartime show, which included pottery, in 1942. This in itself elevated the role of pottery in everyday life, from functioning as exclusively decorative to incorporating a utilitarian component.

Consumers of the day were becoming increasingly educated and selective, and the innovative styles entering the marketplace captured their collective imaginations. Americans embraced the concept of modernism from the 1930s through to the 1950s. At the Newcomb Art School, a simplification and elimination was occurring of the themes which had formed such an in herent component of the earlier Newcomb aesthetic. The Times-Picayune, in fact, reported in 1936, with reference to a Newcomb exhibi tion of that year, that: The trend in design has been away from the naturalistic and realistic patterns towards conventionalization and modernism.2 This was primarily down to the activities of Kenneth Eugene Smith (1907 1976), whose undergraduate work at New York left to right: Mocha ware vase, 1941–1952, 8 x 4 x 4 inches; Mocha ware vase, 1941–1952, 6.5 x 3.25 x 3.25 inches; Mocha ware vase, 1941–1952, 6.35 x 5.625 x 5.625 inches; Newcomb Art Museum

5 State College of Ceramics, Alfred University, was in ceramic engineering. Smith was professor of ceramics at Newcomb from 1929 to 1945. He was central to making the innovative Guild concept widely known to ceramic art circles nationwide, proclaim ing that the new ceramics produced at Newcomb would possess “such rare quality” that the work would prove beneficial in boosting recognition for the university outside the southern United States.3 By the early 1940s, this progressive concept, as outlined by Smith, was firmly in place.

Sarah Agnes Estelle (Sadie) Irvine, artist, Plum ware vessel, 1941–1952, 3 x 5 x 5 inches. Transfer from the Caroline Richardson Center for Research on Women, Newcomb Art Museum Sarah Agnes Estelle (Sadie) Irvine, decorator, and Kenneth Eugene Smith, potter, Newcomb Guild jardinière, 1944–1948, 13 x 14.5 inches. Louisiana State Museum purchase (Dr and Mrs R Wynn Irvine). Photo by the author

During that meeting, it was resolved that: ...membership in the Newcomb Guild... be granted to anyone exhibiting in the basement corridor objects which will be for sale, and that such persons be charged a fee of $1.00 for the privilege; and further that graduates of Newcomb College be au tomatically eligible for membership in the Guild, though all work exhibited will have to pass a jury of standards; that seniors be permitted to exhibit only on invitation of the Committee, but that the work of lower

The Newcomb Guild and its committee were officially approved at the Regular Monthly Meeting of the Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund in December 1941, with Mr Kenneth Eugene Smith shown as chair of the Guild; and the newly appointed art department head, Britishborn Mr Robert D Feild (1893 1979) ex-officio; Miss Juanita Mauras (craftsper son, 1880 1952), representing the group previously known as Newcomb Craftsmen; Mrs Henrietta (Colley) Joseph (painter and potter, 1921 2009), representing the grad uates; Miss Elizabeth B. Raymond (painter, 1904 1986), Chairman of the Jury; and Miss Eugenie Chavanne (1917 2001), secretary (ex-curriculum) of the committee.

It was claimed by Virginia Taylor of The Times Picayune that, “The story of the pottery’s change is a simple one. A new man with new ideas.”8 Feild had, of course, only recently concluded an extended period of research at the Walt Disney Studios in Southern California, a region where the production of contemporary ceramic design was clearly in evidence, as has been previously noted. His forward looking perspective on ceram ics, partly informed by that experience, challenged the domain of early, decorative Newcomb pottery. Speaking of the Guild production, Feild proclaimed, “The vases are made to hold bouquets, the water carafes Francis A Ford, potter, Newcomb Guild Art Pottery vase, 1940–1948, The Historic New Orleans Collection

A new paper identification label was intro duced, which read “Newcomb Guild”; it was intended to be used for application to each object which was marketed to the public. Some, but not all, of the new glazes devel oped by and with Smith in the late 1930s, continued: Cumulus, Gulf Stream, Lichen, Monks ware, Plum, Rain, Spindrift and Warbler; however, several of these were eliminated along the way. Additionally, a glaze known as Grand Isle was incorporated, so called because it was said to evoke the sandy beaches of the barrier island of the same name in the Gulf of Mexico. From the mid 1940s, Spindrift and Warbler were phased out. The connection with hues pres ent in the Gulf South landscape of Louisiana had now become even more apparent because of the lack of external decoration of these more simplistic, utility-oriented ceramic objects.5 In a communication from Smith, dated July 30, 1975, he wrote: The traditional Newcomb style was concluded about 1940 and a new line was developed, which was not decorated except with rather unusual glazes. All this was mainly at the insistence of the new chairman of the art dept, Mr. Robert Feild. ...He had new ideas about what an art school should be, and he implement ed them.6 Smith was to later note of the Guild: The department is a ceramic design labo ratory and bases its approach on a close correlation between engineering and those principles of design which together can establish a high standard of production.7

6 classmen be exhibited at the discretion of the Committee, but that such work be not placed on sale.4

The earlier, more highly decorated and read ily identifiable Newcomb ceramic pieces had been marketed, not only in New Orleans, but also through arts and crafts societies, craft shops, museums and department stores, and these objects commanded a following from coast to coast.

Initially, an exhibition was staged in the autumn of 1940, which focused on “every day objects which embody the principles of sound artistic design,” according to Feild.11

7 and tumblers to be of benefit to thirsty people, the ashtrays to hold the tobacco ash and cigarette stubs deposited by smokers.”9 This shift was described as “shaking the pottery out of its slumber.” Taylor wrote in 1948 that “The old gray beards of Newcomb Pottery have been trimmed!” She continued, “The shaggy moonlit moss and the blue clays have become things of the past, and Newcomb pottery has stepped into the ranks of leading mid 20th century art.”10

The year 1940 was noteworthy for another reason. It was at this time when the longstanding tradition of employing male potters exclusively for the task of creating vessels for decoration by the female students was eliminated. Throwing on a wheel was originally deemed a pursuit which did not suit the genteel character of Newcomb women. This change constituted a significant shift in mores, and placed own ership of vessels firmly within the domain of the individual potter. As reported in The Times Picayune: Newcomb students now make Newcomb pottery. Putting their hands into the clay is no longer considered un ladylike, so the students make the whole piece. The result no more standard Newcomb pottery.12

left and above: Gulf Stream vase, 1941–1952, 7.75 x 5.5 x 5.5 inches, Newcomb Art Museum

Throughout his tenure at Newcomb, one of his missions was to promote the utility of the ceramic objects produced there.


It was at this time, too, when exhibitions held in department stores like Marshall Field in Chicago were becoming more wide spread and readily accessible to consumers.

One beneficial aspect of this method of reaching the public was that it did not pres ent any of the intimidation factor that may have been experienced by visitors within a museum context. Newcomb Guild wares produced by Smith and by Sarah (Sadie) A E Irvine (1887 1970) (who was active at Newcomb as both student and faculty mem ber for an astonishing 49 years, latterly as head of the ceramics department), as well as by Newcomb graduate and Guild committee member, Henrietta (Colley) Joseph, were marketed through this type of exhibition in department stores and galleries.

In one case, The Daily Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, reported in July 1944 on an exhibition of ceramics from the Newcomb School of Art in the housewares division of a local (unidentified) department store.

Jonathan Browne Hunt, potter, and Sarah Agnes Estelle (Sadie) Irvine, artist, Vase with Oak, Moss and Moon Design, 1930, 6.5 x 5.5 x 5.5 inches, Newcomb Art Museum

By 1930, in fact, there was an extensive network of agents located across the country which were handling the distri bution of Newcomb production. Vendors could be found in markets as diverse as San Francisco and Boston, with a proliferation of patrons which even stretched abroad. Retail establishments where Newcomb products were sold required careful scrutinization for their suitability prior to being accepted. Moreover, before the ceramic objects were offered up for sale, they were required to pass an assessment by a four person faculty jury at Newcomb. All this changed with the emergence of the Guild, however, after which the number of locations showing and selling Newcomb pieces were fewer and more precisely tar geted. America House in New York, for ex ample, was one such wholesale distributor of Newcomb Guild wares via the American Craftsman’s Co-operative Council.

Sarah Agnes Estelle (Sadie) Irvine, artist, Newcomb Guild Ceramic button, 1941–1952, The Historic New Orleans Collection, Gift of the Foundation for the Crafts of the Newcomb Style


Museum of Art in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Louisiana State Exhibit Building in Shreveport, Louisiana. Feild student Katherine Ricks (1927 2013), who com pleted a BFA at Newcomb and who became a part-time instructor there from 1949 to 1951, was also a frequent contributor. Although expensive to purchase, the quality and the longevity of each piece was widely known and respected. The Guild maintained a relatively high profile exhibition record, thanks in large part to the activities of Feild and Smith, to the support of local arts re porters, as well as to art and craft magazines around the country.

The Newcomb Guild was frequently lauded in the media for its devotion to the production of honest plates and pots, a characteristic deemed infinitely suitable for the new American home. This concept conforms precisely to the notions set forth by Bernard Leach (1887 1979) in his seminal 1940 work, A Potter’s Book, a piece which, it has been claimed, had been read by almost every West Coast potter of note at the time and which was used as a standard reference for teachers of ceramics. Two copies of the book are currently available in the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane EliminationUniversity.ofexternal decorative motifs was key to the Newcomb pots produced post 1940. Former art stu dents of Newcomb labeled it “the most revolutionary change” since their time.14

“New Orleanians can be proud that the center of cultural development of modern ...Lichen water bottle and tumbler lines and tones accompany modern usefulness, The Times Picayune/New Orleans States Magazine, March 21, 1948

These Newcomb artists were characterized as “working in modern terms, with emphasis on the usefulness of their creative designs, with the result that with an increase in usefulness, there is also an increase in beauty.”13 Three works by Henrietta Colley Joseph were photographed and accompa nied the article. Newcomb Guild ceramic production, now being created for practical use, succeeded in providing objects with the restrained good taste deemed essential by critics of the period for the successful mid century residential decor. Newcomb ceramic exhibitions, now smaller in scope, began to concentrate more on college campuses, too, as in a 15-piece show at Drake University in Iowa in 1947. Not only Guild members’ artistic production was typically on show, but Irvine and Newcomb Ceramic Technician Francis Alfred Ford (1916 1984) regularly had their own work on display. Other venues for the exhibition of Newcomb Guild pieces included the Mint

Henrietta Colley in her studio, 1944. Courtesy of the descendants of Henrietta Colley Joseph

10 ceramics in this section of the world is the Newcomb Art School,” reported The Times Picayune in 1947.15 Ceramic production at Newcomb which showed employment of contemporary design concepts predated the Guild’s official formation in 1941, however. Smith had begun experimenting with new, more lustrous glazes and clay bodies in the late 1930s, and this was a clear forerunner to the Guild style. These glazes became a trademark, with less reliance on the formulaic Louisiana flora themes of prior years. It should be noted, however, that this approach was not universally popular with collectors of Newcomb pottery. Other such examples could be found from the mid 1930s, when the Newcomb Art School was operating under the direction of Lota Lee Troy (1874 1963), who also believed that a new direction for the ceramics area of the art department was in order. A practicing artist in her own right (specializing in bookbinding), Troy joined the faculty in 1909, and went on to become acting director and then director of the art school throughout the 1930s. Her progres sive concepts of art study meant that, by the time of her retirement in 1940, she had expanded the art school faculty, hired the first art history PhD as an instructor, and made significant additions to the art history and art appreciation programs. Significantly, John Edwin Canaday (1907 1985), art critic and historian and director of Newcomb Art School from 1950 to 1952, commented on the Newcomb Guild produc tion. The new Newcomb style, he claimed, was “not a simple rejection of the old, but the result of a necessary period of looking around, of analyzing sources…”16

...representation of three pieces by Henrietta Colley, a member of the ceramic guild of the Newcomb School of Art. They are part of a display now on view in the housewares division of a local department store. The two pieces of ceramic sculpture are in unglazed terra cotta. They are unusually compact, with fine plastic quality and tactile appeal, having true sculptural soundness. The large plate shows beauty growing out of usefulness. (Illustration by Holly Maslen, after a MitchellByfield photo.) The Daily Oklahoman, July 2, 1944


During the Guild period (1940 1952), ceramic production made a dramatic shift, and potters at Newcomb began to consider form and line to a greater extent; glazes and textures they used took precedence over surface decoration. In fact, there were scarcely any identifiable motifs appearing on vessels during the Guild period. I would argue that this change occurred, not due to any conscious gaze towards other contemporary ceramic styles, but rather owing to the fact that many of the works that were produced during this period shared a common East Asian ances tor, the same as the ceramics of a whole school of California makers, including the aforementioned Natzlers, or even more significantly, to the works and theoretical concepts of Leach. In the case of Newcomb, and New Orleans, in general, there were several components which contributed to an awareness and ap preciation of East Asian design. As a major port city, New Orleans had long experienced incoming material from numerous parts of the globe, and that included China and, later, Japan. These decorative objects adorned the fashionable drawing rooms of many of New Orleans’ fine houses. As with other great exhibitions and world’s fairs of the period, the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884 85, held in New Orleans, brought together objects of artistic production from makers worldwide. Furthermore, the fair was readily available to a popular audience, some of whom would have enjoyed this as an initial opportunity to observe, firsthand, East Asian pottery and porcelain, which was also represented pictorially in the local and national media. Working artisans from Japan and China were included in these grand displays, accessible to anyone who cared to observe. Consider, too, Joseph Fortune Meyer (1848 1931), born in Alsace-Lorraine, who was a talented and accomplished potter recruited to join the Newcomb Pottery in its earliest stages. He was responsible for providing inspiration to students over the decades via the numerous East Asian shapes which he so skillfully produced.

Indispensable reference works intro duced East Asian forms to generations Newcomb student Katherine Ricks, surveying her Senior Comprehensive Project at Newcomb Institute of Tulane University, May 1949. Archives and Special Collections

12 of art students, and were incorporated into the Howard-Tilton Library collection during the formative years of the Pottery. TheseSylvesterincluded:Baxter.

Art and antique dealers of the 21st century claim that purchases of Newcomb Guild ware by private collectors are now often made in order to complete a collection, or because a buyer may have friends or relatives who were involved with the art department during the 1940s. Accordingly,

Joseph Fortune Meyer, Vase with Gourd Design in Copper Reduction Glaze, c. 1906, 6.375 x 4.875 x 4.875 inches, Newcomb Art Museum

The Morse Collection of Japanese Pottery. Boston: Ticknor and Co., Christopher1887. Dresser. Japan: Its Architecture, Art and Art Manufactures. London: Longmans, 1882. Ernest F Fenollosa. Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art, An Outline History of East Asiatic Design. London: W. Heinemann, 1912. Edward S Morse. Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1885. The Guild’s activities began to diminish around 1950, however, and operations eventually ceased in a somewhat understat ed manner near the time of the retirement of Irvine in 1952. Feild was relocating back to Massachusetts; Smith had taken an as signment with the US State Department in Honduras, where he set up a national school for the arts in Tegucigalpa; and Ford had departed in 1948, when he took up a role at the School of Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Miss Mary Lou Cabral, senior art student, examines finished bowls, as Francis Ford, ceramic technician at Newcomb, takes them from kiln... The Times Picayune/New Orleans States Magazine, March 21, 1948

2. The Times Picayune. May 3, 1936.

David Conradsen, et al. The Arts & Crafts of Newcomb Pottery. New York: Skira Rizzoli, published in association with the Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, New Orleans, 2013. Paul Evans. Art Pottery of the United States. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974.

S etsu Yanagi. The Beauty of Everyday Things. London: Random House/Penguin Classics, 2018. the prices achieved at auction as of this writing are not as desirable as they justly deserve to be. All in all, the Guild ceramics never gained a popularity equivalent to that of the earlier, coveted, more recognizably Southern designs. It was not available in the same quantity as other contemporary, mass produced wares, which made it difficult to compete from a marketing perspective. Furthermore, these Newcomb ceramic objects were costly, and during the years of the Second World War, income was frequently focused on material which was essential for everyday living. However, both Newcomb Guild ceramic forms and innovative glazes representing the visual character of the Gulf South show the highly progressive outlook at the art school as the country approached mid century.

12. The Times Picayune. April 21, 1940.

4. The Regular Monthly Meeting of the Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund, Minutes, December 9, 1941.


Lucile Henzke. Art Pottery of America. Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1982.

16. ibid. 6. Jean Bragg and Susan Saward. The Newcomb Style, Newcomb College Arts and Crafts and Art Pottery. New Orleans: Jean Bragg Gallery, 2002. Bernard Bumpus. Rhead Pottery. London: Francis Joseph Publications, 1999.

Jessie Poesch. Newcomb Pottery 1895–1940. Talk given to Ima Hogg Ceramic Circle, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. November 22, 2010.

Kenneth E Smith. “The Origin, Development and Present Status of Newcomb Pottery.” American Ceramic Society Bulletin, 1938.

1. Elizabeth Burris-Meyer. Color and Design in the Decorative Arts. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1935.

6. Suzanne Ormond and Mary E. Irvine. Louisiana Art Nouveau: The Crafts of the Newcomb Style. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co, 1976.

Jonathan M Woodham. Twentieth Century Design Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Bernard Leach. A Potter’s Book. London: Faber and Faber, Richard1940.BMegraw.

7. Kenneth E. Smith. “Ceramics at Newcomb College.” Design. December 1, 1944.

3. The Daily Oklahoman. July 2, 1944. (In fact, women from out of state had already identified Newcomb as a highly desirable location for furthering their educations.)

Jessie Poesch, et al. Newcomb Pottery, An Enterprise for Southern Women 1895 1940. Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1984.

13. ibid. 3. 14. The Shreveport Journal. April 30, 1948.

8. The Times Picayune. March 21, 1948. 9. The New Orleans Item. February 4, 1947. 10. ibid. 8. 11. The Times Picayune. November 10, 1940.

15. The Times Picayune. February 16, 1947.

Confronting Modernity: Art and Society in Louisiana. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi, 2008.

5. Jessie Poesch. Newcomb Pottery. Atglen, PA: Schiff Publishing Ltd, 1984.


left to right: Leopold Stokowski, Walt Disney and Robert Durant Feild, c. 1939–1940. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art



Although Robert (Robin) Durant Feild is probably best remembered for his work on Walt Disney and the Disney Studios (The Art of Walt Disney 1942), he also played a highly significant role as director of the art school at Newcomb College from autumn 1940 until 1949. Born in London to AngloAmerican parents, Feild and his family lived in Kensington, and he attended the wellknown Harrow School. Before the outbreak of World War I, he studied painting at the Académie Julian in Paris, but then went on to serve during wartime in the Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army from 1914 to 1919. After being commissioned a lieutenant in 1915, he served on the northwest frontier of India from 1916 to 1919, an experience which was to profoundly impact him for the rest of his life, informing his dedication to democratic socialism and nonviolence, as per the Gandhian philosophy, which he wholeheartedly embraced. It was also at this time that Feild became involved with Indian art and philosophy. Indeed, India became one of his primary passions, with its art forming an integral part of his life. In 1920 21, Feild arrived in the United States, where he initially assisted at a stained glassmaking workshop in Boston, after which he returned to England to paint, prior to returning to the US in 1926, when he briefly attended the University of Chicago. He became associated with Harvard University in 1927, working as a teaching assistant in fine arts, and even tually graduating with a BA Magna Cum Laude in 1930, specializing in the works of JMW Turner. Immediately after taking his degree, Feild taught courses at Harvard in the history and principles of drawing and painting, the history of British painting, and theory and practice of design. From 1936, he was assistant professor, and later director, of the art school until 1940, when he departed Cambridge, Massachusetts for New WhileOrleans.atHarvard, he developed what was to become a lifelong friendship with Langdon Warner (1881 1955), who lec tured on Oriental art at Harvard, as well as with colleagues associated with East Asian art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.1 It was via Warner and various scholars and philosophers, such as the Ceylonese meta physician, Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877 1947), that Feild formed his core views on the concept of the “unknown craftsman” and mingei theory, as promoted by the writ ings of S etsu Yanagi (1889 1961). Feild sometimes used the expression “unknown


By Dr Susan House Wade

1. The celebrated film character of Indiana Jones is reportedly based on the life of Warner.

16 craftsman” in his writings, with reference to those involved in anonymous craft produc tion. This concept was vigorously supported by Yanagi with connection to the mingei, or popular art movement. Between June 1939 and May 1940, Feild was enthusiastically studying trends and methodology at the Walt Disney Studios in California, where he was allowed to roam freely and observe animating procedures in progress. He sought to create a learning environment at Newcomb similar to the one at Disney, based on goal-oriented industry, coupled with interrelated fields of study. While preparing his book on Disney and the animation process, Feild conceived novel and often controversial views on this emerging art form. He argued, for instance, that animation is “the total aesthetic expe rience” and “the most difficult art form yet developed.” Feild believed that its potential was “nearly unlimited.” His The Art of Walt Disney was the original critical study on the art of animation. It was reviewed widely in the international press at the time, and today remains a significant and sought after reference. In September 1940, Feild arrived in New Orleans to take up a new position at Tulane University as professor of art and director of the School of Art at Newcomb College. The curriculum he created there focused on newly emerging areas of academic study, such as photography and film making. He was opposed to the notion of art possessing Eurocentric origins, or what he termed “the culture of the past.” An opposing, but similarly influential, view was held by University of Southern California professor and ceramicist, Glen Lukens (1887 1967), who stated that “the new in art is incredibly old and the old is still vastly new” (1937).

Feild’s unpublished manuscript, Culture is not Yesterday, which addresses this topic, is now held in the Tulane University archives. Interviews with former students and friends of Feild reveal much about his character. His “gentle spirit,” “wonderful sense of humor” and adherence to Eastern philosophies is frequently cited. He played an important role in the lives of students at the art school, as written correspondence with those individuals indicates. His interests were diverse, and he wrote and lectured widely, both in Louisiana and around the country, according to the numerous accounts appearing in contem porary newspapers, and on a vast area of academic subjects, ranging from inter pretations of Russian, Chinese, English, French and Indian folk songs to the works of JMW Turner. Feild was unusually progressive for the period in his attitudes towards human equality, and he was heavily involved with 1940s efforts of African American integra tion in New Orleans. He proclaimed at a Southern Conference on Human Welfare meeting, held in New Orleans in November 1946, that “Negro spirituals” be set aside as sentimental relics, and replaced with “songs for free men, songs for victory…” He was also chairman (1944) of the New Orleans Council of American- Soviet Friendship, an


Pat Trivigno, Portrait of Robert Durant Feild, mid-20th century, 40.5 x 26.5 inches, Newcomb Art Museum

18 Notes Nancy (Lockwood) Dolce, Newcomb Art School student 1945 1951. (May–June 2021). Telephone interview/ Email Robertcommunications.DFeild.

Feild. “The Consumer as Producer in Art.” College Art Journal. Vol XIII No. 1, Fall 1953.

Clarence L Mohr and Joseph E Gordon. Tulane: The Emergence of a Modern University 1945 1980. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2001.

Robert D Feild. “Art and Socialism." Monthly Review—An Independent Socialist Magazine. Vol l, No 9, January Robin1950.

The Art of Walt Disney. New York: Macmillan Company, 1942.

Kristin O’Connell, Robert D. Feild's student/friend, 1960s–1970s. (February 2020 to present). Telephone interviews/Email communications. S etsu Yanagi. The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty. New York: Kodansha America, Inc, 2013. organization endorsed by a number of local religious leaders, formed for the purpose of fostering understanding and friendship be tween these two Second World War allies. It was this sort of association which was to ultimately bring about Feild’s eventual de parture from New Orleans, as he, like many others in the creative spheres of late 1940s and early 1950s America, was caught up in the McCarthy era politics of that period. By 1949, Feild was reassigned by Tulane Dean Logan Wilson (who was also critical of then student activist, now widely respected historian, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall), as profes sor of art in the Newcomb Art Department. Feild’s responsibilities from then were the teaching of specialized courses for advanced students in the art department, including “The History of English Painting” and “The History of 19th and 20th century Painting”; as well as devoting time to writ ing. Volume Two of his Walt Disney work was described by The Times Picayune (July 27, 1949) as ready to go to press, but that eventuality never materialized. Upon his departure from New Orleans in the early 1950s, Feild returned to Massachusetts, where he was able to reunite with friends and colleagues from his years at Harvard, where he continued to be revered by former students, and where he was surrounded by his extensive library and important works of art, most of which represented his profound and long-standing interest in and respect for the countries of Asia. Feild was cremated and his ashes interred in a simple grave, which features only his and his wife, Helen’s, names, in the Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts, a well-known 19th-century burial ground and local tourist attraction. Nearby are also the final resting places of noted American artist Winslow Homer and author Julia Ward Howe.

Susan’s contributions have appeared in the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, Daruma, East Asia Journal, Focus, Historic Gardens Review, Journal of Design History, Landscape and Architecture, Transactions of the Japan Society-London, and the Wallpaper History journal. She has been a recipient of the Thomas Carlyle Fellowship at The London Library, as well as a guest lecturer on the Victoria and Albert Museum Arts of Asia course and London Craft Week; chair of the Japan Society-London Arts Committee and co-chair of the exhibition A Garden Bequest—Plants from Japan: Portrayed in Books, Paintings and Decorative Art of 300 Years. She has presented at conferences and seminars internationally, including in England, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Scotland, Sweden, the United States and Wales.

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.


Dr Susan House Wade is a London-based design historian who specializes in the study of visual culture exchange between East and West during the first half of the 20th century. She represented the Japan Society, London in the restoration of the Bernard Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall, England and has written on Bernard Leach, S etsu Yanagi, Sh ji Hamada and Kanjir Kawai, as well as on Japanese and Korean ceramic production, distribution and usage in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States in the early 20th century. She received her MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and went on to earn a PhD in design history from the University of Brighton in 2010.

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

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.