Platter, c. 1942-1948. Gulf Stream. Sarah A. E. “Sadie” Irvine with Kenneth Smith or Francis Ford. Newcomb Art Collection, Tulane University.

Women, Art, and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise

January 31, 2016 – April 17, 2016

The exhibition presents over 125 rarely-exhibited Newcomb ceramics, tableware, jewelry, textiles, bookbinding, and graphics, from one of the most remarkable collections of 20th century American pottery.

Between 1894 and 1948, some of the most beautiful and functional art objects of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements were created at the Newcomb Pottery Enterprise in New Orleans. The Pottery was an innovative educational experiment as much as an operational facility: it was conceived in the late 19th century at Newcomb Memorial College, Tulane University’s coordinate institution for women, as an income-generating venture for women training in the applied arts.

The Newcomb School operated under the philosophy that no two handcrafted objects should be alike, as evident in the wide-ranging works of the exhibition. The selection of handcrafted objects showcases the Pottery artisans’ unique interpretations of animal and botanical subjects, including the flora and fauna of the American South.

Women, Art, and Social Change includes examples from the full range of the Newcomb collection, from the naturalistic, blue and green tones, to the signature design of vertically banded spatial divisions, to the austere, modernist aesthetic that celebrated the vessel form. The exhibition is rounded out with historical photographs and artifacts that lend additional insight into the Newcomb Pottery story.

The exhibition serves as a retrospective of the works of the students and teachers of Newcomb Memorial College, and their important contribution to women’s rights and social change. The Newcomb model proved successful during a time of economic hardship, providing financial stability and economic autonomy for numerous women, who established themselves vocationally as independent artisans, instructors, activists, and businesswomen. This pioneering cohort of self- reliant women not only made a lasting impact on the art community, but also proved the value of an education, during a time in which learning opportunities for women in the Deep South were lacking.

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The Grand Rapids presentation of this exhibition is made possible by James and Mary Nelson, Greg and Meg Willit, Rothbury Farms, Glen Johnson and Tom Merchant, and the GRAM Exhibition Society (sponsorships as of release date).

Friends of Newcomb
Michigan Women’s Foundation
Reagan Marketing + Design, LLC
Becky Anderson, Edward Jones
Kathryn Chaplow
Catherine Creamer
Experience Grand Rapids
Fairly Painless Advertising
Erin Gravelyn
Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW)
Birgit Klohs
Languages International Inc.
Martin and Enid Packard