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above: Newcomb decorators and potter Joseph Meyer in the Washington Avenue campus ceramics studio, c. 1905–06. Newcomb Archives - Photo Archives Collection. cover: Sarah Agnes Estelle “Sadie” Irvine, artist; Franis Ford, potter, Vase with Grand Isle Design, 1933. Underglaze painting with matte glaze on sculpted white clay body, 111/2 x 8 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

Jenni Sorkin is Associate Professor of History of Art & Architecture at University of California, Santa Barbara. She writes on the intersections between gender, material culture, and contemporary art, working primarily on women artists and underrepresented media. She is the author of Live Form: Women, Ceramics and Community (University of Chicago Press, 2016), which examines the confluence of gender, artistic labor, and the history of post-war ceramics. She received her PhD in the History of Art from Yale University in 2010 and is a member of the Editorial Board of the peer-reviewed Journal of Modern Craft. She is the recipient of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (2014-15), the Center for Craft (2012), the Getty Research Institute (2010-11), and the ACLS/Luce Fellowship in American Art (2008). 2



Essay By Jenni Sorkin

In the late nineteenth century when Newcomb Pottery was founded, there were few women in the ceramic industry. Men controlled the factory floor, both as makers, forming pots, but also as designers, drafting patterns and decorative glazes executed by mainly other men. In 1895, in the postreconstructionist South, Newcomb was established as a forward-thinking gendered experiment in art education, creating an alliance between higher education and a new, progressive ideal: the economic advancement of women through craft.

Ellsworth Woodward, artist; Jules Gabry, potter, Plate with Portrait of Woman, 1897. Underpainted glossy glaze on clay body, 11/4 x 105/8 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; gift of Miss Emma Keene.

Northeast, including Smith (1871), Radcliffe (1879), and Bryn Mawr (1885).

European Influences

The then newly-established Tulane

Art instruction was one of the initial

University (founded as a public medical

offerings at the college, taught by New

college in 1834 and made private in 1884

England brothers and transplants William

under the endowment of Paul Tulane)

and Ellsworth Woodward, who were

was single-sexed: for men only. As a

greatly influenced by the decorative arts

means of redressing this imbalance, in

that they had seen at international design

1886 the philanthropist Josephine Louise

exhibitions, including the Philadelphia

Newcomb created a women’s college in

Centennial Exposition (1876) and the New

honor of her daughter, Harriott Sophie,

Orleans World’s Industrial and Cotton

who died prematurely, at the age of 15,

Centennial Exposition (1884). Ceramics

of diphtheria, in 1870, an era prior to the

had a major presence at the Philadelphia

existence of vaccines. Newcomb College

Centennial, reflecting the rise of the

became the nation’s first degree-granting

American ceramics industry, which often

coordinate college for women in the

employed British workers to cultivate

South, established within a generation

better material knowledge and technical

of comparable women’s colleges in the

expertise. Throughout this era, the British 3

secularization: inferring that the beautification and sanctity of the home was a spiritual experience unto itself. The influence of art educator Walter Smith, a graduate of the South Kensington Art School in London and champion of the industrial and decorative arts, was Leona Nicholson, Mary Butler, Olive Dodd, Sally Holt, Mrs. Wraight, Mary Richardson, Miss Sheerer, Marie de Hoa LeBlanc. Newcomb Archives Photo Archives Collection.

felt throughout Boston as he directed the Massachusetts Normal

Arts & Crafts movement swept the United

School (now known as the MassArt) where

States with fervor and zeal, disseminated

William Woodward trained and taught,

largely through these aforementioned

just prior to helping his brother establish

international exhibitions, as well as the

the art program at Newcomb College

influential writings of William Morris

in 1886. Both Woodward brothers also

and John Ruskin. These theorists

trained at the Rhode Island School of

championed handmade goods and

Design, which was started in 1877 by

beautiful workmanship as a way to resist

women who had funded the Philadelphia

the mechanization and dehumanization

Centennial one year prior.

of the Industrial Revolution. As a result, artists and artisans throughout the

As a result, the Newcomb Pottery,

Northeast established workshops, utopian

established in 1895, was preceded by a

communities, and small businesses,

decade of experimentation in art pottery

often in rural settings, as a way to leave

in Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York.

the city and its factories behind. While

The most notable of these was Rookwood

Arts & Crafts championed the return

Pottery in Cincinnati, established by Maria

of good workmanship and guild culture

Longworth Nichols in 1870. Rookwood,

among the working classes, in actuality,

along with Newcomb, were the only

the majority of its artist-practitioners

enterprises devised specifically for women,

were part of the middle and educated

to encourage and develop women’s training

classes. Further, one of the tenets of

and paid work as decorators.

the Arts & Crafts movement was its 4

There were, however, attempts to resist this gendered separation at Newcomb from the get-go: while a professional male thrower, Jules Gabry, was hired when the pottery commenced, women did perform some of the modeling, glazing, and firing.1 Paul Cox, a trained ceramic chemist, arrived in 1910 and stayed until 1918, experimenting with glaze chemistries before developing Newcomb’s signature matte blues and greens. After the departure of Gabry, Joseph

Harriet Coulter Joor, artist; Joseph Meyer, potter, Plate with Cactus Design, c. 1903. Incised; underglaze with glossy glaze, 127/8 in. diameter. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; gift of Mrs. Arthur L. (Harriet) Jung, Jr. N’40.

Fortune Meyer was brought on in 1896, to build kilns for Newcomb. A French

vessel forms and standardized vases,

émigré who moved to the United States as

plates, cups, and saucers the Pottery

a child and was raised in Biloxi, Mississippi,

typically produced.

Meyer was a thrower with a long-term association with the pottery. He threw and shaped nearly all of Newcomb’s pottery from the late 1890s through

Women Decorators and the Newcomb Style

1927, when he retired. He also brought

As decorators, women would ornament

in, for the briefest time, fellow Biloxi

what were known as “blanks”—pre-thrown

potter George Ohr at the nascent stages

and bisqued (first fired) vessels, and then

of the organization. Though largely

execute complex designs, patterns and

unrecognized within his own lifetime,

shapes through

Ohr is now considered to be one of the

china painting.

most important American potters of the

There was a great

early twentieth century, as his whimsical

deal of freedom

asymmetrical pots teeter at the precipice

in their aesthetic

between functional pottery and modernist

pursuits, with

sculpture. While Ohr did not stay at the

no mandated

college more than a few years, departing

style, and the

in 1890, his association with Newcomb

work was largely

is surprising and delightful, given his own

done freehand,

vessel shapes were highly irregular: with

rather than

curly handles or bulbous protrusions, in

from stencils.

clear contrast to the smooth, cylindrical

The form of the

Marie de Hoa LeBlanch, artist; Joseph Meyer, potter, Unfired Vase with Horizontal Bands and Abstract Design, c. 1901-1908. Incised unfired clay, 23/4 x 33/4 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.


vessel inspired the decoration, selecting

illustrations; and buildings from around

or influencing the shape or contours of

the new campus, in particular, the

the vessel, as they planned their designs.

Washington Avenue campus chapel.1

The Arts & Crafts ethos strongly rejected mechanization, so there was great

Additionally, there were dish sets designed

investment in the individual beauty of each

for children that contained rhymed verse

vessel. There were no multiples or copies.

around the borders of plates and rims of vessels and cups, as a means of imparting

Intricate repeating patterns of flowers

didactic poems or maxims.

and foliage became the signature style for the pottery’s female decorators. There

In time, however, highly stylized flora

was also a great deal of experimentation

and fauna motifs beccame the primary

early on, with animal forms, such as owls,

aesthetic. Interlacing stems or branches

rabbits, and turtles; thematic storybook

connected by incised (carved) decoration created a definitive outline, separating the image from its background. The early emphasis on flatness and the rendering of geometric design was influenced by a spate of handbooks on ornament and design that circulated widely in the late 1890s as the teaching of art professionalized,

Sarah Agnes Estelle “Sadie” Irvine, Plaque with Newcomb Chapel on Washington Avenue Campus, c. 1917. Low-relief carving, underglaze with matte glaze, 101/2 x 141/2 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

in combination with an illustrated botany design text, A Book of



In total, there were three campuses for Newcomb College. The first was located on Camp and Howard Streets within a former mansion. In January 1891, due to increased enrollment, the campus was relocated to a mansion at 1220 Washington Ave. in the Garden District of the city. This campus extended to include the pottery studios and the Newcomb Chapel. The following years saw growth in both reputation and enrollment, and in 1901 at the death of Josephine Louise Newcomb, her bequest allowed for the planning of purchase of land within a half mile of Tulane University’s campus. The Newcomb campus near Tulane University on Broadway between Plum and Zimpel Streets, remains the largest and final campus for the college, with classes starting in 1918.

Studies in Plant Form and Design (1902), which showcased the adaptation of botanicals into detailed geometries,

Marie Odelle “Odile” Delavigne, artist; Joseph Meyer, potter, Vase with Japanese Magnolia Design, 1902. Blue and green underglaze painting with glossy glaze on buff clay body, 133/4 x 8 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

emphasizing the blossoms and leaves in cross-section.2 The flowers chosen emphasized local plants, including water

lilies and magnolias, as well as recognizably

vessels were a staple of the pottery, and

Southern landscapes, which became the

in continuous production.4 They also

dominant themes for Newcomb’s pottery.

doubled as the perfect domestic souvenir,

Live oaks trees draped in Spanish moss,

commemorating a visit to the iconoclastic

southern pines, and cattails are often

city of New Orleans itself. In 1899,

found on Newcomb wares, as these are

chief decorator, Mary Given Sheerer,

plants specifically native to the Mississippi

wrote emphatically in Keramic Studio,

River Delta. This lush scenery became

the most important ceramics magazine

iconic imagery for Newcomb Pottery,

of the era: “The whole thing was to be

propelling a moody grandeur in matte

a southern product, made of southern

green and blue glazes. One critic referred

clays, by southern artists, decorated with

to this signature palette as “cool restful

southern subjects!”5 Such a clear and

color.”3 Such a romantic evening image,

emphatic statement showcases the pride

with a full moon peeking out behind the

embedded in the Newcomb enterprise: a

trees, became a way to translate the warm,

way of creating social uplift not only for

perfume-y, often inert air found in the

women, but for a region of the country still

American Gulf region.

economically disadvantaged long after the

Known as landscape vases, or “moon treescapes,” these hand-decorated

Civil War and its lingering impact upon the Louisiana economy. As the art historian Jessie Poesch observed a century later, “There were few ways a young woman with artistic training could earn a living or put her education to use in the South. New Orleans was a commercial city in the midst of an agricultural region.”6

Newcomb’s First Decade (1895-1905) Though in its nascent stages, the Pottery’s founding proved tremendously successful. Newcomb’s first decade (1895-1905) coincided with many national and international exhibitions that showcased Arts & Crafts production. Through a Sarah Agnes Estelle “Sadie” Irvine; Jonathan Browne Hunt, potter, Vase with Oak, Moss, and Moon Design, 1930. Green and blue matte finish with low relief carving on clay body, 61/2 x 51/2 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

national network of Arts & Crafts societies and guilds, the burgeoning pottery was


invited to show student works within

circulated nationally, not just locally, and

these high profile exhibition settings. Such

became influential aesthetically. A decade

invitational events offered the additional

after Newcomb’s founding, in 1908, a

incentive of honors and prizes. These

program known as Saturday Evening

included the Exposition Universelle, Paris

Girls was established at the Paul Revere

(1900) [bronze medal]; Pan-American

Pottery in Boston to offer poor Italian

Exposition, Buffalo (1901) [silver medal],

and Jewish immigrant schoolgirls the

and Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St.

opportunity to earn money as decorators.

Louis (1904) [silver medal].7 Rather than

While aimed at a younger audience than

rewarding individual expression, these

the college-aged women of New Orleans,

fairs showcased group displays of 15-25

Newcomb is arguably a key predecessor.

or so artworks, extending the collectivity

Newcomb’s pottery shipments were sent

found in the pottery itself, cultivating a

for sale across the country, to be sold

shared excitement, and allowing for the

at small purveyor shops in New York, Boston, and even as far away as Honolulu. Locally, such prominent awards became the subject of advertising campaigns in the college newsletter and the New Orleans Picayune, in which the pottery offered the possibility of its wares as “ideal presents for Christmas, Weddings, Birthdays, and Graduation.”9

A woman arranges pottery in the studio classroom at Newcomb College. Edwin Wisherd for the National Geographic.

full and enthusiastic participation of the pottery’s student-artists. These major milestones offered an advantageous visibility and attention to Newcomb and its pedagogical model, as well as an onslaught of visitors and tourists. This included famed celebrities of the era, such as the French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was reported to have visited and purchased a vessel crafted by Sadie Irvine. 8 As a result, its pottery 8

Marie Levering Benson, artist; Joseph Meyer, potter, Vase with Narcissus Design, 1908. Glossy glaze on incized buff clay body, 121/2 x 41/2 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; gift of Mrs. Harry Meyer and Mrs. Nat Friedler

flourish within the private, versus the public, sphere, the design historian Nancy E. Owen has argued, in her book on Rookwood, that “the decorative artist movement catered to female constituencies…by linking household decoration to the creation of new career opportunities, producing a cultural agenda scaled Newcomb decorators in the Washington Avenue campus ceramics studio, c. 1905–06. Newcomb Archives - Photo Archives Collection.

to the contours of the

Woman’s Space: The Art Studio

sphere of the artist’s studio,

At Newcomb, additional media were added in the first decade of the twentieth century. These included printmaking, bookbinding, metalwork, and embroidery. Like its British predecessor, American Arts & Crafts encouraged an immersive, doeverything approach to artistic production, as a way of fostering the experiential wholeness of the arts. Such a philosophy inculcated art as a daily practice, a nearly secular form of worship. The sphere of the art studio was a productive social space in which to engage young women, as this was a protected enclave where they were neither at home, or out in public, but “safely” sheltered away.

home.”10 It was in the

however, where ambition was scaled down, producing singular objects, rather than scaled up, at the factory, producing utilitarian wares for consumption and reproduction. As a protected environment, Newcomb was a liminal setting: inbetween the studio and the factory in that the pottery was a proto- not-for-profit, shielded from the larger market due to the specificity of its gendered and regional mission. However, it still sought a place in the burgeoning art pottery marketplace in the first quarter of the twentieth century, distinguishing itself from such contemporaries as Pewabic Pottery (started by Mary Chase Stratton in 1903), the Cincinnati Pottery Club (started

The rise of the American studio pottery

by Mary Louise McLaughlin in 1879),

movement was tied to the late nineteenth

Rookwood Pottery (started by Mary

century “cult of domesticity” which

Nichols in 1880).

believed a middle-class woman’s place was in the home, as the guardian of beauty and

To this end, ceramics was the financial

refinement for her family. Encouraged to

backbone of the Newcomb enterprise, and 9

its most sustained craft. However, many

time careers for a number of decorators,

of Newcomb’s students worked between

including Henrietta Bailey, Harriet Joor,

pottery and additional media as a fuller

Sadie Irvine, Anna Frances Simpson, and

expression of their talents and interests.

Rosalie Urquhart.

Drawing, bookbinding, printmaking, and embroidery enriched artistic practice

Sadie Irvine (1885-1970)

through translation and experimentation,

Born Sarah Agnes Estelle Irvine,

often continuing a design strategy or

but known as Sadie, Irvine was the

creating an altogether different work of art.

principal and long-term decorator and aesthetic driving force at Newcomb. She had a lifelong association with the pottery, beginning her career as an undergraduate at Newcomb College, then a graduate student, instructor, and eventually becoming head of the ceramics department. In the summer of 1908, she was awarded a traveling fellowship to attend the Art Students League in New York to further her education, where she painted from live models for the first time. She also received scholarships to Arthur Wesley Dow’s Ipswich summer school, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine

Newcomb Artisan, Table Runner with Southern Pine Design, c. 1905-1910. Silk in running and outline stitches on linen, 721/4 x 241/4 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

Furthering her training at the Rhode Island School of Design, silversmith Mary Williams Butler brought jewelry-making into the Newcomb curriculum in 1908. The pottery led to part-time, and later, full10

Sarah A. E. “Sadie” Irvine artist; Joseph Meyer, potter, Plate with Chrysanthemum Design in Blue, 1908. Glossy glaze on incised white clay, 91/2 in. diameter. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

populated by the oak and cypress trees lining Louisiana’s bayous. She also made numerous woodblock prints and watercolors during her lifelong tenure at the pottery. After the pottery’s closure in 1940, Irvine focused her efforts on the undergraduate curriculum alongside Kenneth Smith, the first assistant professor of pottery. Her role shifted yet again when, in December 1941, Irvine initiated another endeavor: the Newcomb Guild, an outgrowth of the pottery, as an organization headed by Irvine, Smith, and Francis Ford that facilitated individual production without having to adhere to the previous aesthetic demands of the Sarah A. E. “Sadie” Irvine artist; Joseph Meyer, potter, Vase with Quince Design, c. 1917. Low-relief carving; underglaze with matte glaze, 81/4 x 37/8 in. Newcomb Art Collection, Tulane University.

pottery. The year 1952 marked Irvine’s retirement, and with it, the official closure of the Newcomb Guild. Of this last, productive decade, curator Adrienne

Arts. Upon her return, she remained at

Spinozzi writes, “the shiny, saturated

Newcomb, and was considered one of the

glazes produced were a remarkable

most talented young designers, excelling in

departure from the matte, naturalistic

a variety of mediums including illustration, printmaking, painting, and pottery. She learned to model in low relief, resulting in a raised floral design that was less sharply delineated than the previous hard outlines that characterized the pottery’s output before 1910.11 The most talented and aesthetically advanced decorator at all stages—both in pottery production and in the various phases of Newcomb’s existence—Irvine is widely credited for formulating the distinctive leafy landscapes, including the “moon treescapes,” and their variations,

Sarah A. E. “Sadie” Irvine, Mocha Ware Vase, c. 19411952. Clay body. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.


conundrum for Newcomb: how to preserve its identity in a moment of immense aesthetic change. This resulted in a compromise: drop the landscapes in favor of the favored abstract and linear designs, but using the same glaze chemistries, in subdued blue and green shades. Sadie Irvine was the remaining decorator who could effectively translate between Sadie Irvine measures ingredients for a compound in the Newcomb Pottery studio. Photo courtesy of the Tulane University Archives.

landscapes of her earlier days.” Irvine’s 12

the two styles. During the early 1930s, she began spending more of her time at

influence on the arts community of

the pottery teaching, rather than making

New Orleans reached far beyond

work, and continued in this capacity when

Newcomb’s campus, as she often worked

the pottery ceased operation in May 1940.

collaboratively with local artists, mentored art students, and, upon her retirement,

The pottery’s closure resulted from

continued to teach at the Academy of

declining sales, and a shift nationwide

Sacred Heart in New Orleans.

away from handmade products toward the

Newcomb’s Final Years (1925-1940) Though the moon treescapes remained inordinately popular, Newcomb’s aesthetic direction changed dramatically after Mary Sheerer attended the 1925 Exposition Internationale in Paris and saw Art Deco pottery in wide circulation, characterized by complex patterning and geometric abstraction. While reminiscent of the initial influence of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial as a catalyst for the pottery’s wares, this new direction created a 12

Newcomb Guild, Gulf Spindrift Ware Vase, c. 19411952. Clay body. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

wider profit margins of mass production.

opened in 1985 at the Renwick Gallery,

The popularity of the Fiestaware line is

Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.,

such an example, designed in 1936 by

and traveled for two years, closing at its

the famed Arts & Crafts potter Frederick

home gallery at Tulane University, in 1987.

Rhead for Homer Laughlin China Company

Poesch went on to publish extensively on

in East Liverpool, Ohio. Fiestaware was

Newcomb, and its influences.13 She retired

brightly colored—glazed ceramic in cheery

in 1992, but continued to maintain an

reds, yellows, reds, and blues, food safe, and

active research profile, publishing widely

most importantly, in the midst of the Great

on the Southern art and architecture that

Depression, affordable.

was overlooked and missing from the historical record in American art, which

Remembering Jessie Poesch (1923-2011) Dr. Jessie J. Poesch, who joined the faculty at Tulane in 1963, was the first trained art historian to argue for the importance of Newcomb Pottery’s extensive history. Her recovery resulted in her organization of the first scholarly show on Newcomb Pottery, a national touring exhibition which

had focused primarily on the Northeast and its abundant colonial histories. In 2003, the art historian John Davis cited Poesch as part of the original establishing generation of art historians to work exclusively as Americanists, rejecting art history’s tiresome preoccupation with European art, and instead, actively cultivating the rich history of the United States and its stunning breadth.14

Notes 1.

2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

American Art Pottery: The Robert A. Ellison, Jr. Collection. Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Martin Eidelberg, Adrienne Spinozzi, eds. (New York and London: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2018), 224. Jessie Poesch, Newcomb Pottery: An Enterprise for Southern Women, 1895-1940. (Atglen, PA: Schiffler Books, 1984), 23. This doubled as the exhibition catalog for the touring Newcomb exhibition between 1985-1987. Ibid, 32. Adrienne Spinozzi, “From the Iconic to the Intimate: Understanding the Work of Newcomb Pottery’s Sadie Irvine,” American Ceramic Circle Journal XV (2009), pp. 131. Mary Given Sheerer, “Newcomb Pottery,” Keramic Studio (November, 1899), 151. Poesch, ibid, 14. Adrienne Spinozzi, “From the Iconic to the Intimate: Understanding the Work of Newcomb Pottery’s Sadie Irvine,” American Ceramic Circle Journal XV (2009), pp. 141, note 13. Ibid, pp. 128. Poesch, ibid, 65. Nancy E. Owen, Rookwood and the Industry of Art: Women, Culture, and Commerce, 1880-1913. (Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2001), 25. Curator Adrienne Spinozzi has written on Irvine’s extensive career at Newcomb. See Spinozzi, cited above. Ibid, 139. See the exhibition catalog, which also toured nationally: Jessie J. Poesch and Nancy E. Green, Arthur Wesley Dow and American Arts & Crafts (New York: American Federation of the Arts, 1999). John Davis, “The End of the American Century: Current Scholarship on the Art of the United States,” The Art Bulletin v. 85 n. 3 (September 2003), pp. 31.


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

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

women’s department, headed by 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 with a $100,000 gift to Tulane University. The H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, named in 14

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

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 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 Robb-Burnside mansion located in the city’s Garden District. The property encompasses an entire city block and is bound by Washington Avenue, Sixth, Chestnut, and Camp

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.

streets. The art department and gallery share space on the second floor with the chapel.

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

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 15

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 set guidelines for the enterprise’s crafts – designs are to be of indigenous vegetation and wildlife with no

Mary Sheerer with class, c.1900. Newcomb Archives - Photo Archives Collection.

design duplicated. Each piece must pass inspection of the faculty jury prior to sale.

1895 Art faculty launches the 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

1900-1905 1900

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.

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 Medal from the Exposition Universalle de 1900, Paris.


outlines. The association with Ipswich lasts until 1906.

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.

1902 The Pottery building, designed by New Orleans’ architect, Rathbone de Buys, is completed at

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

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

The Newcomb Pottery Building. Newcomb Archives - Photo Archives Collection.


1904 The Art School receives a silver medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition for its display of a variety of crafts. Twentythree pieces are sent to the Expo, and the city of St. Louis buys several items for their museum. Sales are reported at $4,500.

1905-1910 1906

The Newcomb Art Alumnae Association established scholarships funded from the sale of alumna art. Newcomb Archives - Photo Archives Collection.

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

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.

and indicating the importance of the individual artist.

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


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. 19

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 - Photo Archives Collection.

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 Photo Archives Collection.


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 the Director of the Newcomb Art School. Field

Newcomb Guild, Vase, Gulf Rain Ware, c. 1941-1952. Glossy glaze on clay body, 51/2 x 41/2 in. Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

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.

1942 Tulane’s Board of Administrators approves proposal by Kenneth Smith for limited, commercially oriented craft program, keeping in spirit of original Newcomb Pottery. Newcomb

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

mark is revived and placed on bottom of ceramic 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

Planned by the College,” Daily-Picayune, July 19, 1894, New Orleans, LA; 3. 2.

make significant sales.

Jessie J. Poesch with Sally Main, Newcomb Pottery and Crafts: An Educational Enterprise for Women, 1895-1940, (Atglen, PA:

pottery gains national recognition through Field’s extensive connections but is unable to

“The Newcomb Art Building and Other Improvements

Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.), 2003; 21. 3.

“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

1952 Activities of Newcomb Guild terminated. 22

19, 1901, New Orleans, LA. 5.

“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 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. The Newcomb Institute advocates for a gender-equitable University to create a genderequitable world. Newcomb Institute is the interdisciplinary academic center that carries forward Newcomb College’s legacy of women’s education. We shape the future by preparing students for leadership in a gendered world. Newcomb Institute is the gender conscience of the University. We ensure that women, gender, and feminism are fully and fairly represented in all aspects of the University’s mission. 1. We build ambition and confidence by connecting students with faculty, alumnae, donors, and women leaders outside of the classroom, giving them exemplars who inspire, share strategies, and foster community 2. We overcome obstacles by searching to discover solutions to the most intractable gender problems of our time 3. We empower women by creating synergy between teaching, research, and community engagement as a research university. We facilitate undergraduates in conducting research with faculty. 4. We produce, document, preserve, and share knowledge about women, gender, and feminism in the Gulf South 5. We honor the legacy of H. Sophie Newcomb by mobilizing the 30,000 graduates of Newcomb College and others who support gender equity to support undergraduates 6. We develop leaders by fostering intellectual and activist communities 23


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

Profile for Newcomb Art Museum

(Feminist) Origins of Newcomb Pottery  

(Feminist) Origins of Newcomb Pottery