On The Square

Someone Pinch Us: George Ohr Takes Over at Rago Auctions!

By Jessica Helen Weinberg

Jan 15,2017 | 10:05 EST

The first piece of advice I’ll give you is, you should probably move out of his way. The broad shouldered man hammering down the street with a wheelbarrow full of clay, rocking a marvelous 18-inch mustache, is none other than George Ohr - the self proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi.” Should you wish to see where this strange, determined fellow is going, simply follow the river soaked tire tracks through the dusty streets of Biloxi, Mississippi into the year 1900.

George Ohr, Wedging Clay in his Studio, Biloxi, MS; Wiki Tree.com

He'll lead you to a five-story, hot pink, pagoda covered in haphazard signs, shouting out, “Get a Biloxi Souvenir, Before the Potter Dies, or Gets a Reputation!” or “Unequaled unrivaled—undisputed— Greatest Art Potter on the Earth!” Inside is George Ohr, America’s first studio potter, laboriously refining, shaping and firing all of his ceramic wares that will go unappreciated for nearly a century. His apparent lunacy and obsession with clay, however, would have been overtly clear during this time-warp studio visit. A jumble of shiny, colorful pots would have bombarded shelves and ceiling beams, wildly spreading to the floor like an out of control fungus. There are also knickknacks for sale; ceramic hats, inkwells, brothel-coins as well as some conformist functional wares like strawberry pots and water jugs. Although a reasonable portion of Ohr’s production was useable, his relentless fixation with manipulating clay continued to cultivate his modernist investigations; pushing clay to the edge of functionally and into the realm of pure form. His refusal to be creatively stifled or controlled by the mainstream esthetics of the tame Victorian style, enhanced his determination to perfectly pinch, twist and dent his vessels. At one point, he went so far as to leave his pieces glaze-less, giving them a matted and completely unfinished surface. 

Left to Right: Lot 116. George Ohr, Large Dimpled Vase, Indigo and green glaze; Lot 115. George Ohr, Bisque Vase with Ruffled Rim; Lot 105. George Ohr, Tall Pitcher, Gunmetal, ochre and green glaze.

Lets say you step into this unusual showroom, you might have even slung back a whiskey or two at the local watering hole, so you strangely begin to understand the artistry behind Ohrs eccentric pottery! Unfortunately, you would have been met with resistance despite your best efforts. It is said that "The Mad Potter of Biloxi" rarely agreed to sell his modernist works to the public, retaining the conviction that his creations were meant to be purchased solely by museums…that is, unless, you wouldn't mind dishing out his studio asking prices of a few hundred dollars to own a crumpled clay pot! Although, this sounds like a bargain today, these prices would have only solidified the "mad" portion of this nickname to any inquring customer of the time. 

Lot 111. George Ohr, Lobed and folded vase, Ochre, brown, and gunmetal speckled glaze; Lot 107. George Ohr, Cut out- handle pitcher, blue and green glaze; Lot 102. George Ohr, Fine vase with in-body twist and star-shaped rim, gunmetal and ochre glaze.

It’s easy to recognize that George Ohr soared above the narrow minded, mainstream of his time and proclaimed his creative genius in retrospect. What’s harder to articulate is how completely profound he knew his historical impact would be. His experiments were brutalist, poetic extensions of himself; some are even complete with elongated, loopy mustashe "ribbion handles" like his! George Ohr is a reminder to artists of all mediums that art should be a true reflection of ones inner most desires, “When I found the potter’s wheel I felt it all over like a wild duck in water,” Ohr recalls of his first encounter with the craft, later adding “I have a notion that I am a mistake. When I am gone, my work will be praised, honored and cherished. It will come.” I suppose, had he lived to see the erection of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Ghery, to house and celebrate his extraordinary body of work, he might have leaned back and simply crossed his brawny biceps in satisfaction.

Lot 11. George Ohr, Vase with ribbon handles and in-body twist, gunmetal glaze, Biloxi MS, 1897-1900.

Bidsquare is proud to present nearly 30 lots of wondrous, rare and important works by George Ohr in three of Rago Auction’s upcoming sales; Click here to view the full catalog of, The Collection of Dr. Martin Eidelberg on 01/21; Click here to view the full catalog of Early 20th Century Design on 01/21; Click here to view the full catalog of Mid-Mod on 01/21.