On The Square

Flower Power: The Craftswomen of Newcomb College

By Bidsquare

Oct 11,2016 | 17:00 EDT

Blossoming magnolias, hanging wisteria, a towering iris, curled cotton plants and climbing pines all speak to the flower power created at Newcomb College. Saturday, October 15th Rago will be auctioning 10 lots (366-375) in their Early 20th C. Design sale that help tell the story of the students who attended and flourished at Newcomb College, the first degree granting college for women in America. Each vessel displays the striking cobalt floral motif that deeply rooted New Orleans into the vibrant American Arts & Crafts movement.

From Left to Right: A.F. Simpson, Fine Scenic Vase with Pine Trees and Full Moon: Harriet Joor, Large Early Vase with Day Lilies: Roberta Kennon, Large Early Vase with Cereus Flowers 

Founded in 1886 by Mrs. Josephine Louis Le Monnier Newcomb, in partnership with Tulane University, the college quickly became a haven for Southern belles looking to reschedule tea parties for terpenoid tutorials. In the 54 years that Newcomb Pottery operated, over 100 women propelled themselves into artistic careers that would go on to exemplify the countrys first group of educated, modern, self-reliant, capable craftswomen. 

Post Civil War New Orleans fell on perilous times as homes were plagued by disease and families mourned lost soldiers. The female population largely outnumbered its male occupants, making it an economic necessity for women to financially support themselves and contribute to local manufacturing. This state encouraged members involved in the womens suffrage circuit to plant seeds of opportunity for Louisiana’s place on the artistic world stage. According to enrollment records from 1886-1887, 800 female students attended Newcomb College’s Saturday evening classes, in addition to full waitlists for hopefuls ready to fill vacant desks.



Newcomb College Student, Photo Source: The Examiner                                 

Although it is easy to focus on the achievements made by the Newcomb Pottery Studio, a variety of classes were offered, in equal parts, in areas such as textile design, embroidery, draftsmanship, stenciling, brass work, clay modeling and book binding. One of the more distinguished graduates, Harriet Coulter Joor (b.1872-1965) personified the vision that Mrs. Josephine Newcomb had when she founded the ambitious academy. Over the course of her education and career, Joor supplemented her income by writing, publishing instructional essays and designing and executing textiles, some of which she designed for Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Workshop. In the fall of 1923, Joor accepted a position in the Art Department at the Southwestern Louisiana Institute which provided her with a salaried income allowing her, after many years away from pottery, to re-engage with clay and teach courses in freehand drawing, design, hand-building, mold instruction, glaze and kiln work. Two of Joor’s early Newcomb College pots, Lot 366 and Lot 367 are featured in Ragos sale on October 15th.

Harriet Joor, Large Early Vase with Day Lilies, 1903, Lot 367

There is an undeniable, eye-catching strength in the clay forms and graphic glaze decoration that came out of the Newcomb Pottery Studio. The decoration was largely influenced by Arthur Wesley Dow’s design textbook Composition and the Japanese painting style Ukiyo-e. These styles trended amongst early impressionists such as Degas, Manet and Monet, as well as Art Nouveau artist Toulouse-Lautrec. Newcomb embraced its local resources and natural surroundings unlike any other group at the time. It is Newcombs particular brand of flower power that earned them their critically acclaimed reputation as a national and international award winning institution.

Leona Nicholson, Fine and Early Vase with Pine Trees, 1902, Lot 368

The artists that contributed to what is known as Louisiana’s Art Nouveau are still celebrated today at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane in New Orleans, where the breadth of the Newcomb enterprise can be toured. By the time of its closing in 1940, it is estimated that over 100,000 finely crafted objects were produced by the institution. 

To view all upcoming Newcomb College pottery on the square click here. Ragos Early 20th C. Design auction is taking place October 15th, view the full catalog here