Complex, Confusing, Contorted: George Ohr Pottery

“George Ohr’s pottery is probably the most difficult art pottery for us to access,” observed author David Rago, “because George Ohr, as well as the ware he produced, was endlessly creative.”

The self-proclaimed Mad Potter of Biloxi, a master of self-promotion, never stopped experimenting, never stopped creating, never paused to consider what people might think of his twisted, egg-shell thin, colorful, splattered, mottled and confusing art pottery.

With prices for what collectors deem the best of his work typically starting at $5000 and running into the tens of thousands of dollars for the supreme examples, it would seem that Ohr’s work is beyond the reach of the average collector. But if you are not consumed with a desire to own a large, twisted, manipulated vase with applied handles or snakes, you just might be able to add one to your collection.

Prices for smaller, less dramatic Ohr vases, in fact, have come down from their pre-recession days, as older collectors downsize and younger collectors get more picky, going for quality rather than quantity. While paying $1000-$3000 for a five-inch tall, fragile piece of speckled, crumpled pottery may still seem extravagant, it just might be a better place for your money than the stock market.

While Ohr broke every rule imaginable, here are a few guidelines to consider, keeping in mind that because Ohr collectors are every bit as unpredictable as Ohr himself, there are exceptions to every suggestion:

* size typically matters, as the larger examples generally command higher prices;

* the more Ohr manipulated the piece, the more people will be drawn to it;

* many collectors are more attracted to his brilliant colors rather than his dark green and black glazes;

* throw practicality out the window, as collectors don’t care if his vases won’t hold flowers or water; the more twisted and bizarre, the more they like it;

* the more you see the hand of George Ohr in the piece, through incised words or applied decorations, the more it is worth;

* condition is not as critical as with other potters, as the majority of his fragile vases were casually stored inside a mechanic’s shop for half a century; expect to accept minor chips and hairline cracks;

* the best of his work is the successful (which is open to debate) marriage of form, glaze and decoration.

Given the value of Ohr’s work, it should come as no surprise that people have attempted to reproduce his work. After 1902 Ohr produced hundreds of bisque-fired pieces (no glaze applied, see photo). Thinking they could increase their value, some individuals have purchased these bisque wares, coated them with a glaze and refired them. Most are poorly done in a plastic-like glaze that is immediately suspicious, but be sure to compare any you encounter to the authentic glazes of George Ohr.

Other forgeries are out there, so before venturing very far out on a limb, be sure you have done your homework. Fortunately for us, there are several excellent books on George Ohr that can hone your collecting skills and your eye for any suspect pieces.

Good Luck!