Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art

George Ohr. By Robert Brooks/Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

George Ohr in his workshop. By Detroit Publishing Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I have been a long-time collector of pottery, and for awhile, my eldest son’s interest was making pottery, so when we visited the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, MS, we were in for a treat.

George Ohr, a.k.a. “The Mad Potter of Biloxi,” was quite a character. He lived from 1857-1918 and first became interested in ceramics in 1879 when he served as an apprentice to Joseph Fortune Meyer. He went on to create an astonishing amount of pottery during his lifetime.

George Ohr. By Robert Brooks/Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
At first he created functional pottery, and this is how he supported his family, but later he began to experiment with different forms and glazes. Every piece he made was unique, and having seen the collection at the museum, I can attest that they are amazing. Most of them are paper thin, and I was told they are light as a feather! (Click here to see a short video about George Ohr and view some of his amazing pots.)

George suffered many losses in his life. Five out of ten children did not reach adulthood. In addition, a fire in 1894 destroyed his workshop and all the pots in it. He salvaged some of them and called them his “burned babies.” A few of these are on display at the museum.

Although George received critical acclaim for his work during his lifetime, he was disappointed that the public would not pay the prices he wanted for his work. He considered himself the greatest potter in the world, and he believed that someday the world would see his work as unequaled by any other. Having seen his work, I believe he may have been right.

He quit making pottery about ten years before he died in 1918, and he wrapped up much of his work and stored it in the attic of his shop. After he died, his sons opened a used car parts shop where his studio used to be. But the story doesn’t end there, of course.

In the 1960s, an antique dealer from New York traveled through Biloxi looking for old Cadillac parts. He found some old Cadillacs parked at the shop, but George’s sons didn’t want to sell the car parts. Instead, they convinced the antique dealer that he should buy all their dad’s old pottery. He paid them around $50,000 for all of it.

Once the pottery was shipped to New York, the antique dealer began selling the pottery at auction. Each piece was selling for about $50,000, and now George Ohr’s pottery is recognized as extraordinary — just as he predicted it would be.

If you’re ever in Biloxi, I highly recommend going to the museum. The architecture of the building is very interesting, and there is also a working pottery studio on the campus. You can walk inside and speak to the artists who are working there. They also have a good mix of temporary exhibits, and the Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center is an exhibit of African American culture and history in Biloxi, which we enjoyed very much too.

If you’re as fascinated with George Ohr as I am, you may enjoy this more detailed article too.

Project-based Homeschooling: Pottery Class Update

I’ve written extensively about my eight-year-old’s interest in working with clay and his pottery classes. I thought I would update you with some of his latest work from his pottery class this past fall. It was an eight-week class that was extended for an additional three weeks. He had a different instructor this time, which I think was a positive experience because he learned new and different techniques. He learned hand-building and wheel techniques.

I don’t have photographs of everything he made. Here are just a few items, including my favorite sculpture: his two-headed chameleon. What impressed me about this work is that he didn’t copy what the teacher was making — he came up with his own idea. (He told me he changed his mind a few times before he settled on a chameleon.) And then he sculpted it from memory! At home he will usually look up a photo of an animal to draw or sculpt, but in the class, he didn’t have access to the Internet, so he did this from his own knowledge of what chameleons look like. I am not sure I could have done that!

He told me that he sculpted one head, but then at the last minute, he thought, “Maybe I’ll do two heads.” Okay, then! What an imagination! I think it turned out fantastic.

By the way, these photographs were taken with my phone. In my next post, I’ll tell you what my five-year-old and I did while the eight-year-old was in class. 🙂

 

I love the final product.

Here you can see a few pieces that were made on a potter’s wheel. The tall one on the left was made by a method of stacking more than one pot thrown on the wheel. He also learned about raku firing, which is a Japanese way of firing pottery.  I learned that raku firing does not make a pot safe to eat out of! The two-headed chameleon and the small bowl in the back right of this photo were raku fired. The raku firing can give a pot a metallic look, which can be beautiful.

I especially like that they make him clean up!

He opted to take a break from pottery this spring, but he says he wants to take a summer camp at the pottery studio. Since this is his project and interest, we’ll support whatever he wants to do (as long as we can afford it). I hope he sticks to it, but only the future will tell!

Project-based Homeschooling: Long-term Clay Interest

I’ve already written a detailed column about my seven-year-old’s recent participation in pottery classes and his growing interest there, but I wanted to create a post that showcases some of his work with clay over the long-term and how it has slowly culminated to the point where I knew he would love those clay classes!

He’s been working with clay since he was four. A year or two ago, he watched some videos about pottery and clay, and he made this little car following a tutorial.

And he made a tree of his own design.

His Titanic was part of a long project, and my column became one of my first and most popular PBH articles.

Remember when he made this penguin?

I never showed you his space shuttle.

Or his sauropod.

His Mayflower. He also made the Mayflower out of cardboard, and we read a book about it, so this was a little bit longer project.

His hummingbird. He also painted it, but I haven’t got a picture of that.

Earlier this year we enrolled him in a homeschool pottery class where he learned how to use the pottery wheel…

…and sculpting techniques such as “pinch pots” and “slip and score,” and then he used those techniques at home…

…to make some sculptures such as this frog. Later he painted it green, and it’s really cute.

And he made a bird sitting in a nest.

And a dinosaur.

We also let him take a week-long pottery summer camp, which was about Asian pottery and Raku methods…

The big pieces on the left and all the pieces in the front row are from his Asian pottery camp. (The big black one is a lantern shaped like a house. Though it looks black in the photo, it actually has some very cool, iridescent colors in it.) Also there are two sushi plates and the plate with different compartments are from his Asian pottery camp. Everything else he made in the homeschool pottery class. And he’s anxious to take more classes!

As I mentioned in my column, we’ve also taken him to some pottery sales, and he’s had a chance to speak to local potters and see their kilns. We plan to continue letting him take classes as long as he wants to (and as long as we can afford it), but this will probably happen over a long time. I look forward to seeing where he takes this!

And I guess I need to get more shelves. 😮

Project-based Homeschooling: My seven-year-old and his pottery

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 18, 2014.

My seven-year-old loves to build things. Mostly, he uses cardboard because we don’t have access to many other materials, but he also loves using clay. For the past three years, I’ve kept air-dry modeling clay on hand because it’s cheap and the boys love it. (I like it ten times better than Playdoh.) The seven-year-old takes his clay building very seriously, and he’s sculpted some pretty cool stuff.

When I found out a homeschooling class was being offered at Good Dirt Clay Studio in Athens, I jumped on it, and to say that my son loved it doesn’t do it justice. He even opted to go there instead of his homeschool science class at the nature center, which has always been a top priority with him.

I wasn’t sure how he’d feel in the big studio with all the different people coming and going, but after one class, his eyes were beaming, and I could tell he was in heaven. I loved how the class taught him some sculpting techniques as well as taught him how to use a potter’s wheel. All the pieces were glazed and fired too, so he got to learn about the whole process. The teacher also made the students spend the last 30 minutes cleaning up after themselves – that’s always an excellent lesson.

He ended up outperforming the older kids in the class by making many more pots than they did. I don’t know if this was because they were talking too much, or they were going for perfection or what. My son’s pots aren’t perfect, but they are all beautiful and useable – they have almost replaced the plastic kid’s ware that we usually use.

I love how my son wanted to use the air-dry clay at home after the class, and he used the techniques he learned from his teacher. In the past, he has gotten frustrated when small pieces fell off his sculptures, or they would easily break. Now he instructs me on how to make a pinch pot and how to “slip and score,” and his work doesn’t fall apart as easily.

rhino made in class

dinosaur made at home using same techniques

I don’t know how long he’ll continue to enjoy making pottery, but his father and I want to support all his interests. Learning any skill is a good thing in my book. The pottery classes aren’t cheap, but they aren’t so expensive that we can’t swing a class here and there.

We also thought he would have fun going to some pottery sales and meeting the potters who sell out of their homes. We are lucky to live in an area rich with this type of craftsperson. About twice a year, they collaborate and have open houses to sell their work.

Last weekend we went to Geoff Pickett’s open house, and we were delighted when he gave us a tour of his studio, kilns, and my son even got to see his potter’s wheel and asked him a question about how he made a vase.

From there, we went to one other sale, and we ran into our son’s pottery teacher. She thrilled him by complimenting him in front of other potters. She said how quickly he learned how to center the clay on the wheel, which is one of the hardest things to get right.

I’m struck by how kind and generous these artists are, and it’s clearly a good community to belong to. I don’t know if my son will continue to learn about pottery, but I’m happy that he’s happy, and I only see good things coming out of the experience.