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Marsh Grass & Angel's Trumpet

August 2, 2004

Suzanne Johnson
Michael DeMocker

To study Newcomb Pottery design is to study the art and form of the early 20th century. Its curves and lines reflect the flow of time and taste and sensibilities. Its designs open glimpses into a gentler world where young women studied the minute details of the butterfly ginger and the flowering quince, the angel's trumpet and the water lily--all to be translated into a wisp of color, a sweep of paint on clay, the preservation of a moment to last a lifetime.

tulaniansum04_pottery1When Jessie Poesch, professor emerita of art history, and Sally Main, senior curator of the Newcomb Art Gallery, published their landmark work on Newcomb Pottery in 1984, it seemed to be the final word on the subject.

Published in conjunction with the Smithsonian traveling exhibit of the pottery celebrating Newcomb College's 1986 centennial, Newcomb Pottery: An Enterprise for Southern Women, 1895-1940 offered a rich history of the pottery and what seemed a virtually exhaustive visual record.

So it came as a surprise to the authors when they began work on the revised edition that there was so very much more to be seen and learned. The result is Newcomb Pottery & Crafts: An Educational Enterprise for Women, 1895-1940, published late last fall by Schiffer Books.

A member of the Newcomb art faculty since 1963, Poesch remains especially impressed by the work produced before World War I. "The more pieces we looked at, the more surprised we were by how amazingly creative and infinitely varied the work is within a well-defined concept of traditional shapes, drawing ideas from the environment and the basic colors of olive green and cobalt blue," she says. "I was surprised by how many new pieces there were to discover and how the quality of the work held up."

Poesch and Main looked at pieces in both public and private collections, and examined not only the better-known pottery but also the metalwork, embroidery and bookbinding for which the Newcomb artists were known. The June 2001 discovery of a large collection of hand-wrought silverwork by Newcomb craftsman Rosalie Roos Wiener (see Tulanian, winter 2001), in particular, led to a greatly expanded section on this aspect of the Newcomb enterprise. In all, the number of photographs of Newcomb Pottery doubled between the first book and the second, and the metalwork grew from three examples and three archival photos in the first book to more than 100 pieces in the new.

The bookbinding and embroidery sections have been expanded, as has the section presenting data on the women designers. The book offers fans and scholars of Newcomb Pottery a rich resource to explore, as the following pages will show, and as the authors themselves learned.

"It has been amazing to find and learn about new things," Poesch says. "It has been a wonderful voyage of discovery."

silver monogram neclace with moonstone

The monogram of this silver chain necklace with a moonstone pendant is NBM for Nellie Mae Bartlett. The craftsman of the necklace is unknown; it was commissioned as a graduation present for Bartlett, who earned a bachelor of design in 1930. Bartlett married and was known as "Jack" Kelleher. She later gave the necklace to the Newcomb College Collection.

inlaid rosewood box

An inlaid rosewood box with an art nouveau design in brass is from the earliest days of the college, 1886-87. The artist is unknown for this item in the Newcomb College Collection.

Newcomb pottery cup and saucer

A impatiens-design cup and saucer, circa 1907, are on loan to Newcomb College from Mr. and Mrs. A.L. Jung. The incised lines and underglaze painting with glossy glaze are the work of decorators Leona Nicholson and Sally Holt; the potter was Joseph Meyer.

samples of bookbinding

Examples of bookbinding from 1925 to 1935 in the Newcomb Collection Collection reveal tooled leather, with gold leaf on some, in a variety of designs, and hand-made end papers.

Newcomb pottery pitcher

Well-defined and sinuous, the pomegranate and leaf-based design of this undated pitcher suggests "cognizance of art nouveau taste," writes Jessie Poesch. Gertrude Roberts Smith, who taught art at Newcomb from 1887 to 1934, decorated the pitcher. Joseph Meyer was the potter. It was bought by the Friends of the Museum Purchase Fund of Baton Rouge, La., for the Louisiana State University Art Museum collection.

silver matchbox cover

A hand-wrought silver matchbox cover, whose artist is unknown, has an applied tree design. The piece is from the collection of Jean Bragg Lusher and is undated.

photo of Newcomb art student c. 1920

A Newcomb art student around 1920 hammers a silver bowl. The photograph is from a Newcomb Art Department scrapbook in the University Archives of the Tulane University Library.

silver crucifix

Shown in detail is an appliqued, hand-wrought silver crucifix, with amber settings. It is from a silver-link rosary, circa 1920-25, and attributed to Miriam Levy. The rosary is in a private collection.

Newcomb pottery vase

A tall vase, circa 1905, has a Japanese plum design with incised lines, underglaze painting and a glossy glaze. Irene Borden Keep decorated it; Joseph Meyer was the potter. It is in the collection of Dr. and Mrs. Norman C. Nelson.

three-handled tyg

A three-handled tyg (a large, multi-handled ceramic drinking cup), circa 1902, has a sailboat design with underglaze painting and a glossy glaze. Mary Pearl Davis was the decorator; Joseph Meyer, the potter. Its inscription is "Like birds across a blue sky with snowy wings fly/ The sloops in white sail beauty fly o'er dark blue Ponchartrain." (Yes, Pontchartrain is misspelled!) The tyg is in the Louisiana State Museum collection.

table runner and inkwell

(left) A fruit-and -leaf design table runner, circa 1905-15, is of coarse linen with a running stitch in French silk. The artist is unknown for this example of embroidery and weaving in the Newcomb College Collection.
(right) An inkwell from 1906 has the classic Newcomb Live Oak tree design, including incised lines, underglaze painting
with a glossy glaze. Mazie T. Ryan decorated it; Joseph Meyer was the potter. It's also in the Newcomb College Collection.


Newcomb pottery tea set

A tea set--including a teapot, sugar bowl and creamer--from 1907 has a Louisiana wild rice design. These pieces by decorator Henrietta Bailey and potter Joseph Meyer exhibit a slight relief carving and the characteristic Newcomb Pottery incised lines, underglaze painting with a glossy glaze. They are in the collection of Kathryn Fleck.



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