The late nineteenth-century Biloxi potter, George Ohr, was
considered an eccentric in his time but has emerged as a major
figure in American art since the discovery of thousands of examples
of his work in the 1960s. Currently, Ohr is celebrated as a
solitary genius who foreshadowed modern art movements. While an
intriguing narrative, this view offers a narrow understanding of
the man and his work that has hindered serious consideration.
Ellen J. Lippert, in her expansive study of Ohr and his Gilded
Age context, counters this fable. The tumultuous historical moment
that Ohr inhabited was a formative force in his life and work.
Using primary documentation, Lippert identifies specific cultural
changes that had the most impact on Ohr. Developments in visual
display and the altered role of artists, the southerner redefined
in the wake of the Civil War, interest in handicraft as an
alternative to rampant mass production, emerging tenets of social
thought seeking to remedy worker exploitation, and new assessments
of morals and beauty as a result of collapsed ideals all played
into the positioning Ohr purposefully designed for himself.
The second part of Lippert's study applies these observations to
Ohr's body of work, interpreting his stylistic originality to be
expressions of the contradictions and oppositions particular to
late nineteenth-century America. Ohr threw his inspiration into
being both the sophisticate and the "rube," the commercial huckster
and the selfless artist, the socialist and the individualist, the
"old-fashioned" craftsman and the "artist-genius." He created art
pottery as both a salable commodity and a priceless creation. His
work could be ugly and deformed (or even obscene) and beautiful.
Lippert reveals that far from isolated, Ohr and his creations were
very much products of his inspired engagement with the late
Subjects: Art & Art History
Table of Contents
You are viewing the table of contents
You do not have access to this
on JSTOR. Try logging in through your institution for access.