The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise

Women, Art and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise, currently on view at the Woldenberg Art Center at Tulane University, New Orleans is a portal to a changing period of American history. As a testament to the breadth of work covered in the Exhibition, Sally Mann, senior curator of the Newcomb Art Gallery, spent three years assembling what is now on view. And, if you’re unable to catch the exhibition as it travels throughout the United States, lucky for you, we have a special first-hand tour of the exhibition from Arts and Crafts friend and Newcomb aficionado Ellen Cohen.

Forty years after the American Civil war, a New York benefactor, Mrs. Josephine Newcomb, stepped forward with a donation to honor the memory of her daughter, Sophie. From that, Newcomb College was born and became the first women’s college in the United States. The focus of the institution was to offer an education both practical and literary.

Women, Art and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise is well executed with a time line that progresses from the inception of the school in 1886 to the school’s official closing in 1940. (Though several of the artists formed the Newcomb Art Guild which flourished until 1952.) The college opened doors for women that were otherwise closed during that time period and some went on to establish themselves in other areas. One became a city planner and many continued in the decorative arts. Opportunities afforded to the Newcomb graduates were unheard of at the time.

However, the women of Newcomb College were not allowed to throw the clay. That task was reserved for the men, who were classically trained. The marvelous shapes found in the collections of Newcomb Pottery stand the test of time, which is only one of the reasons that Newcomb is highly revered and sought after by collectors.

Decorative designs including flowers, landscapes and bayous with Spanish Moss are all represented. Ceramic lamps with hand pierced metal shades, vases, candlesticks and drinking vessels are just a few of the one hundred and forty plus items present. And aside from the thorough collection of Art Pottery present, embroidered textiles, wood block bookplates, metal work, examples of bookbinding and time period appropriate jewelry; including a stunning necklace, brooch and bracelet; are on display.

In addition to the exhibition, Senior Curator Sally Mann has partnered with Adrienne Spinnozzi et. al. to produce a new volume entitled Women, Art and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise. Essays from noted scholars along with information about the potters and designers including their marks, and photos highlight the history of the school. It is available through the Art Gallery directly or through their web site in both hard and soft cover editions.

The Art Gallery at Tulane has partnered with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Service to present this exhibition. It will remain in New Orleans thru March 9. Admission to the exhibit is free.

A symposium is scheduled for February 1st from 10AM – 4 PM, including a walk with the curator, lectures and a panel discussion. Another lecture is scheduled on February 20th at 8:00 PM on the British influence on the Arts and Crafts movement. For more information about these events and the exhibition as a whole please visit the Newcomb Art Gallery website.

More venues are scheduled for the exhibit after it leaves New Orleans. Visit our Calendar of Events to see other times and locations.