May 14, 2008

Steampunk Historical Inspiration: The Mad Craft Showman

Ladies and Gentlemen...Boys and Girls! Gather around to see the magnificent madness that is the pottery of George E Ohr, the self proclaimed Mad Potter of Biloxi. Witness his wildy varied pottery styles and forms, no two alike, all created in the late 1800's and early 1900's, before his death in 1918.

I have always been inspired by George Ohr in a way. Perhaps not by his work so much as his personality. It is said that he had the showmanship of P.T. Barnum, a wild entrepreneur and self-motivated craftsman, who is thought to have created over 10,000 pieces of pottery in his lifetime. The work, was incredibly unusual, completely "ahead" of its time. Paying little attention to conventional pottery forms and function, his pots were thin walled, with strange textured and metallic glazes, rippling folds and organic forms, and an affinity for multiple non-functioning handles. They are not beautiful in a conventional way, and certainly not in a functional sense, but seen en masse one can really get a sense of the workings of this potter's mind and aesthetic, and the apparent drive and showmanship he required in his personality to create such items, in such quantity, and promote them as if they were not the strangest things on Earth.

I am torn about Ohr in some ways, actually. The Wikipedia article, and others, suggest that Ohr is considered the father of the American Abstract-Expressionism movement. To me, this is absolutely hilarious, that a potter could dare be called this. I can hear the uptight art history teachers and critics that I encountered all through art school, rolling their collective eyes at such a concept...that a potter could be considered to be such an important figure in the scheme of modern art history. You see, most of my formal art training was spent pondering the dichotomy of Craft and its place in the Art world. The Fine Artists didn't consider the crafts as art, even when the boundaries of traditional form were pushed, and the Fine Craft Artists didn't usually consider traditional craft *unless* the boundaries were pushed. Didn't leave much room for a traditional craftsman, which I longed to be. So in a way, Mr. Ohr is sort of responsible for me having to talk about Art that was *about* a teapot instead of actually talking *about* a teapot as Art. This likely makes no sense, unless you went to art school with a crafts degree. I spent too long thinking of these things in college, and it does in part ruin the experience in some ways that I may never recover.

In any case, I am including George Ohr as a steampunk inspiration for me, because I love his drive to create innovative and inventive creations, his penchant for controversy, and for challenging the minds of his peers in art and pottery. And I hope to channel a bit of the Mad Potter showman in my own persona. As a pretty quiet, shy girl, I have a hard time making outlandish boastful statements about myself and my work, but sometimes a little showmanship and confidence are needed. He had it in tons, obviously... I just need to borrow a few ounces.


  1. I am loving your mini art history lessons, I am learning so much! I recently experienced the snubbing of pottery as an art at my college when several of my advanced classmates discussed that yet again their work was not accepted in the year end art show and that it was very rare when pieces were excepted. I was flabbergasted at this because their work was so beautiful and different. Great job thank you!

  2. I love that teapot at the end... Such an interesting form! I also like the way the center one is pinched and folded, like some sort of cloth or paper.

  3. jeraluna,
    Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading. Sorry to hear about the snubbage. I suppose what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as they say...doesn't make it less difficult though...

    They are unusually beautiful, aren't they?

  4. This is wonderful. I love the idea of a Mad Potter's Society!

  5. Melissa,
    Yesh that's great isn't it? We could have a Mad Beaders Society!

  6. OMG! The form in the middle is amazing! Ok Ms. Kylnfyre! Thanks for breaking out the time machine so we can take a journey back to see these peoples works!!

  7. I would have love to see this guy in action, wouldn't you? On the potters wheel, and selling his wares... Too bad it is before the time of video...