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 George Edgar Ohr  (1857 - 1918)

About: George Edgar Ohr
 

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Lived/Active: Mississippi      Known for: pottery-abstract and folk art

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George Edgar Ohr
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Ray Castello of American Art Collections:

George Edgar Ohr was born Sunday, July 12,1857, at 10 AM in Biloxi, Mississippi
and later christened George Edgar Ohr in the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer.
He married Josephine Gehring of New Orleans on September 15, 1886, in Biloxi.

George and Josephine were the parents of 10 children.  Their first child, Ella Louise, died after just a few months and their son, Asa Eugene, died before he reached the age of five.  At some point, George became interested in the fact that his abbreviated name, Geo., was spelled with his initials.  When his third child was born, he named him Leo Ernest to correspond his first name and initials. The practice was continued with all of his children thereafter -- Clo, Lio, Oto, Flo, Zio, Ojo and Geo.

George E. Ohr (1857-1918) has been called the father of American pottery and is recognized for his innovative sculptural vessels with incredibly thin pinched, crimped, fluted and manipulated walls.

Ohr began his career around 1879 when he accepted an offer from a boyhood
friend, Joseph Fortune Meyer, to come to New Orleans and learn the potter's trade. Ohr creations feature incredibly thin walls, and he hand-molded pieces giving them a sculptured look.  He trained extensively by apprenticing with potters throughout 16 states in the southeastern region of the US, including the New Orleans Art Pottery, where he re dedicated himself as an "art potter."  Over the following decades, Ohr evolved his art from using the traditional ceramic vessel as a three-dimensional medium for his highly expressionist art.

Unable to find an appreciative audience for his vessels, Ohr made ceramic souvenirs such as ceramic hats, plaques of Southern buildings and children's banks to support his family.  To draw attention to his wares, he adapted an eccentric persona and became known locally as the "Mad Potter of Biloxi" for his two-foot moustache and wild proclamations such as his being the "unequaled, unrivaled, undisputed greatest art pot-Ohr on earth."  Ohr called his creations "mud babies" and his pottery shop, the "Pot- Ohr-E", they had become a Coast attraction by 1894.  Not really mad, but egocentric, he knew acting attracted tourists to his shop.  He said, "I found out long ago that it paid me to act this way."

Throughout his career, Ohr produced thousands of his sculptural vessels.  Shortly before the end of his life, he stored his "mud babies" in crates in the attic of his son's auto repair shop with instructions that the trove was not to be opened for 50 years, when the world would be ready for his visionary works.  In 1972 an antiques dealer discovered the more than 7,000 Ohr sculptures, and today the works are studied, discussed, collected and viewed all across the nation and Europe.

Ohr hated to part with his creations.  New Jersey antiques dealer, James W. Carpenter, purchased 7,000 pieces of Ohr's pottery in 1968 and offered it for sale in the New York area.  Ohr's work astounded the art world.  Dismissed by contemporaries, he is steadily gaining recognition for his work.  A museum bearing his name, the George E. Ohr Arts and Cultural Center, was established in his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi.  It officially opened October 22, 1994 and features more than 250 of his creations.

The following is from the Biloxi, Mississippi newspaper of July 12, 2001:

Museum Dedicated to America's Most Innovative Ceramicist, George E. Ohr and the Cultural Legacy of African Americans

ABOUT THE NEW MUSEUM: Biloxi, MS (July 12, 2001) - The Trustees of The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art today unveiled Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry's model for a museum that will showcase the cultural legacy of American artists of the Southeast. The centerpiece of the $16-million Museum, designed as a series of pavilions amid a four-acre grove of ancient Live oak trees on the Mississippi Sound, is a gallery dedicated to "the father of American pottery," George E. Ohr. The new Museum will also feature African-American folk art and history as well as works by contemporary artists of the region.

The ground breaking for the 25,000 square-foot museum is scheduled for early 2002, with the opening anticipated in 2004. "It is an extraordinary privilege to have Frank Gehry, the most influential architect of our time, working on the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art," said former Biloxi Mayor Jeremiah O'Keefe. "The union of Frank's innovative design with the expressive sculptural vessels of George Ohr and the cultural heritage of the region will create a harmonious village of art, culture and history, unlike any other in the South or the nation."

Civic leader and civil rights activist Jeremiah O'Keefe has raised the first $7 million of the $16 million capital campaign, after launching the campaign with a lead gift of $1 million in memory of his first wife Annette.

Frank Gehry is internationally acclaimed for his use of technological advances to create structures in a wide variety of shapes and materials new to contemporary architecture.  The architect's sculptural buildings blend the artistic with the functional and are reminiscent of George Ohr's expressive and whimsical ceramic vessels. Ohr, a pioneering 19th-century art ceramicist, was a skilled colorist, glazer and technician who manipulated his hand-built vessels into unusual shapes and forms that pre-dated Surrealism.

"The freedom of expression and spontaneity that George Ohr's works embrace have long been an inspiration for me. His flowing shapes imply a sense of movement that is similar to the gestures of some of my buildings," said Frank Gehry.  "Jerry O'Keefe's dream to make this visionary artist a national treasure is an important effort that we are honored to help fulfill."


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