‘I am the apostle of individuality, the brother of the human race, but I must be myself and I want every vase of mine to be itself’
The self-styled ‘Mad Potter of Biloxi’ (he also claimed the title ‘Unequaled unrivaled—undisputed— GREATEST ART POTTER ON THE EARTH’), George Ohr defied all convention. He created a prolific, diverse body of work in the late 1890s and early 1900s that was astonishingly ahead of its time. His studio, a five-story wooden ‘pagoda’ in Biloxi, Mississippi, overflowed with pots in an array of wild, warped shapes and explosive colours that stood in vivid contrast to the Victorian beiges of the era. The present work, with its exuberant biomorphic shape, fringed lip and shimmering, mossy glaze, is a charming demonstration of his pots’ unique character. Many contemporaries regarded Ohr as nothing more than an eccentric tourist attraction. In a 1901 interview, however, he predicted ‘When I am gone, my work will be praised, honoured, and cherished. It will come’ (G. Ohr, quoted in B. Watson, ‘The Mad Potter of Biloxi’, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2004). He was right. Half a century after his death in 1918, an amazing cache of seven thousand of his works was rediscovered in his son’s auto repair garage. Collectors including Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol began buying Ohr; in 1984 some Ohr pots appeared in new paintings by Johns at New York’s Leo Castelli Gallery, and after a series of solo shows of Ohr’s work, interest and acclaim increased as prominent collectors such as Steven Spielberg and Jack Nicholson also began buying. Examples of Ohr’s ceramics, now regarded as singularly important, innovative and beautiful, are now held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History; the Frank Gehry-designed Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, a major centre dedicated to Ohr’s work and to the cultural heritage of Mississippi, opened in 2011.