(*) (*) issue 7 (*)

Articles & Reviews

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The 'Anamalous': A Response to my Ceramic Critics

Richard D. Mohr

  My book Pottery, Politics, Art is an exploration of abjection and grotesquerie in American ceramics. It examines three American potters for whom the abject and the grotesque were the core aesthetic – the brothers Cornwall and Wallace Kirkpatrick (1814-90, 1828-96, Anna, Illinois) and George Ohr (1857-1918, Biloxi, Mississippi). Because these themes were central to these men's work – they all three put excess and excrement in your face, say, by instructing you to drink your delights from the anus of a clay pig (the Kirkpatricks plus Ohr) or cut your tea with milk that has been swaddling ordure at the bottom of a creamer (just Ohr) – the work could not but be political. It turns out that all three potters were misanthropic liberals – not artists, like, say, Céline, who hated the species so much that they might take delight in its annihilation, rather artists who, even in their melancholy, thought the species a sick, lazy dog that still might gain something from an occasional prodding.

But the psycho-sexually grounded political dimensions of their projects far from turning the work away from serious aesthetic consideration actually deepens its artistic merit. By embracing deformity and impurity, the yucky and the disturbing, these potters, sometimes even in relatively small scale works, were able to achieve the overwhelming, the vast, the powerful. It was the smoldering erotic and scatological dimensions of their work that, by providing to it the daunting and the intractable, turned it away from mere prettiness and converted its beauty into the sublime. Ohr could even sustain in mutual suspension the contradictory emotions of beauty's relaxing joy and sublimity's seizing awe. His particular blend of these two immiscible passions we might call the dazzling.

In order to reveal and probe the psycho-sexual-political dimensions of these artists' work, the book deploys the perspectives and ideas (though not the jargon) of the postmodern academy. The book, though, declines the postmodern invitation to abandon the category of the beautiful, to toss it on the slag heap of history alongside other delusions like God, Platonic Forms, patriotism, and the individual.

The book is the first sustained effort to apply to the decorative arts the thought styles of postmodernism – the suite of interpretive techniques made available by social constructionism, deconstructionism, the new historicism, and psychoanalysis, techniques which emphasize strategy over structure, rhetoric over grammar, function over form, and which are sensitive to the political dimensions of art, to irony, fun, to turns of meaning as well as of phrase. The reasons for this oddly late intersection of the decorative arts and postmodern interpretation are two. First, art history departments, at least in American universities, still do not take the decorative arts seriously, and second, where the decorative arts are taken seriously, namely, the Master's degree programs at Winterthur, which are the source for virtually all of the decorative arts curators in America, people there still haven't heard of postmodernism. And to judge by the traveling exhibitions and accompanying catalogues on the Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Arts & Crafts movements mounted over the last seven years by the Victoria and Albert, it appears postmodern criticism has not entered British decorative arts criticism in a substantial and sustained way either.

There is another general odd feature of scholarly work on American ceramics – interloping. A high percent of all the university press or otherwise scholarly books on American ceramics are by authors who in some significant ways are outsiders to both art history and the decorative arts. They come at it from the side: Nancy Owen was a tenured professor of medicine before going on to write Rookwood and the Industry of Art (Ohio University Press, 2001). Mark Bassett was an English professor before going on to write Cowan Pottery and Understanding Roseville Pottery (both Schiffer, 1997, 2002). Eugene Hecht, who wrote the archivally-based chapter of The Mad Potter of Biloxi (Abbeville, 1989) is a professor of physics. The grandfather of archival scholarship in American ceramics, Paul Evans, author of Art Pottery of the United States (Scribner, 1974), began as an Episcopalian priest. The rule has notable exceptions. The curators Anita Ellis, Sharon Darling, and Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen instantly come to mind. But American ceramics criticism would be wan without the interlopers.

I fit the outsider model. The title of my day-job is Professor of Philosophy and of the Classics. Having grown up in decidedly pre-postmodern days at the University of Chicago (B.A.1972) and the University of Toronto (Ph.D. 1977), I was thrust into learning the ways of postmodernism when in the late 1980s I served as the general editor of a book series on sexualities for Columbia University Press and it turned out that eighty-plus percent of submitted manuscripts came in from English departments.

My book Pottery, Politics, Art itself had an odd genesis. In 1997 I wrote for the Journal of the American Art Pottery Association an article on the distinguished history of ceramics at my home institution, the University of Illinois-Urbana. Most of that history took place in its Department of Ceramic Engineering, which, though it never had the production of art wares as a significant focus, did maintain an extensive study collection of American art pottery in a dedicated museum within the Ceramic Engineering Building. In the late 1970s, the collection was transferred to the University's Krannert Art Museum. The transfer included two major pieces from the Kirkpatricks' Anna Pottery (Anna, IL, 1859-96), one an Albany-slipped stoneware whisky jug with a tangle of a dozen rattlesnakes and three people passing in and out through holes in its sides and with one large snake forming its handle (c. 1876-86), the other an outsized cobalt-touched and salt-glazed stoneware jug obsessively incised across every centimeter of its surface with facsimiles of business cards for Chicago publishing firms (dated 1879). In 1986, the Museum mounted a general exhibition of Anna Pottery wares. The show traveled to Chicago and Springfield and generated a 32-page catalogue, which went out-of-print almost immediately. Prior to my book, this 1986 catalogue was the only monographic treatment of the brothers Kirkpatrick.

That year, I was in Washington, DC on a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Residency Fellowship and was unaware of the show. When, a decade later, I was researching my article, the Museum's registrar handed me a xerox copy of the catalogue. At the time, the University's Library did not even have a copy of it. Flipping through the catalogue, I was agog and thrilled and enticed with what I saw: inkwells of screaming, dreaming, drowning children with lizards on their foreheads, pig flasks incised all over with maps of railroad routes, caricatures, cartoons, every slimy slithery thing in the universe, tangles, knots, blurred boundaries, obsessions galore, work at once humorous and unsettling, sort of mysterious, hauntingly beautiful, and vaguely not nice. An image of the Krannert snake jug was to grace the front cover of the Journal issue that carried my article. When I showed a black-&-white copy print of the jug to my secretary, she paused for two seconds and then blurted out, 'It's horrible.Yuck. It's like somebody's guts pouring out'. When I was speaking on the phone with an octogenarian collector of American stonewares who owned a major Anna snake jug and a major Anna political caricature, he sheepishly said, 'And you know, there's something vaguely sexual about these snake jugs'. But when I turned to the text of the catalogue, the humor, the obsession, the abject, the grotesque, the sexual, the fun and wonder of Anna pottery was completely absent. The catalogue advanced the droll view that the works were temperance movement propaganda and that the brothers Kirkpatricks' political views were conservative, even 'nostalgic', espousing 'an enduring affection for nature' and 'the prevailing Victorian sensibility' of the times. The catalogue was deaf to irony, blind to oddity, and did not actually explore the history of the Kirkpatricks to find out what their politics were.

The Kirkpatricks' work seemed ripe for the sort of resources postmodernism has made available, especially ripe, because of the main methodological problem that confronted the project. It turns out that the Kirkpatricks were Radical Republicans, members of the most liberal wing of the most liberal national political party of the times, yet by the ill-fortune of history, ninety-five percent of what we know about them, beyond the works themselves, comes from a highly partisan voice for the Democratic Party, the Jonesboro Gazette , the newspaper of Anna, Illinois's twin city and a paper so far right-wing in its politics that it was briefly suppressed for sedition during the Civil War. So almost everything we know of the brothers comes from an unreliable source, yet the catalogue uncritically takes the Gazette 's interpretations of the works at face value and as definitive. Needless to say, there was a lot to unpack. The Kirkpatricks had not had their day, certainly had not had their coffee-table book, and so simply to get readers up to speed required that the Kirkpatrick section of the book would be longer than the section on the much more familiar Ohr, who after all had had his coffee-table book, The Mad Potter of Biloxi. On examination in its historical context, the Kirkpatricks' work turns out to be ironic, to espouse a liberal, if melancholy, view of the world, and to reject, indeed upend, the Victorian values of its times.

I had seen the 1989 Ohr show at the American Craft Museum for which The Mad Potter of Biloxi served as de facto catalogue. The show, Ohr's New York City première, kicked off its hagiographical mission with a tyg owned by Jasper Johns, who in the mid-1980s incorporated images of Ohr's pots into his paintings. The show included a large pig flask that everyone concedes Ohr made while visiting the Anna Pottery early in 1882, though already he was ringing changes on Kirkpatrickian themes. While the brothers' flasks are single chambered, this one is double chambered. The distorted chambers of the mammalian body – the 'anamalous', Ohr's portmanteau for 'anomalous + animal' – would become the most important theme in Ohr's work. And from the archival research reported in my book, it is also known that Ohr crossed paths with the Anna Pottery at least twice more. The Anna Pottery and Ohr both exhibited in New Orleans at the 1884-85 World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, at the end of which Ohr lost all of his works to a thief and had to start again, and they both exhibited at Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, the year most people believe Ohr made a sudden leap to producing the lyrical swirling wares by which he is best known today.

At the Craft Museum show, there were snakes in abundance, despite the claim in Garth Clark's contribution to Mad Potter that Ohr's single artistic misstep was his use of snakes: 'The one flat note in Ohr's surface appendages is his use of the serpent. While Ohr's pots with serpents fetch handsome prices, one can only assume that the value placed on these pieces corresponds to their rarity' (p. 131). Clark has now changed his tune and finds the 'life and sensual plasticity of Ohr's . . . elemental' snakes to be wonderful and this wonder a fine cudgel for beating up on the Kirkpatricks. But, in any case, the Kirkpatricks' influence on Ohr was not simply one of genres (chamber pots, stanhopes, puzzle jugs, pig flasks, snake jugs), though the Kirkpatricks were the originators of the ceramic pig flask design and the use of multiple snakes on ceramic vessels. Their chief influence on Ohr was topological. It is from them that Ohr learned the geometry of abjection, the turning of the insides of the body outward, the blurring of boundaries, and the oozing of bodily fluids from darkness into light. The brothers' writhing snake jugs served as the Möbius strips and Klein bottles of Ohr's mind. They would become Ohr's pierced, scrunched, folded, and rent surfaces, his in-body twists, his swirls. They would help Ohr crack open the mammalian body and present its insides out. No other pottery antecedent remotely shared Ohr's topology.

And then too at the Craft Museum show there was a vitrine housing a couple of Ohr's monumental vases averaging twelve or thirteen inches high, gunmetal of glaze, and in form ithyphallic (that's Greek for 'stiff dicked'). It would turn out that these were part of a whole series of such brutally stark abstractions of erect male genitals; in their grotesque exaggerations they could even have stiff foreskins. The Mad Potter views these vases as irrelevant to the Ohrian corpus; it mentions them only to pass them by. Other Ohr critics fail even to mention them. But they magnetized the crowd at the Craft Museum. Not since Caillebotte's floor scrapers snapped necks at the Salons have folk been so unexpectedly smitten by the male form in a museum setting. Surely something was wrong with The Mad Potter 's view that all that's going on in Ohr is 'a deeply felt homage to the feminine . . . derived from an obsession with fecundity that in turn was connected with his theistic beliefs. Ohr saw birth, sexuality, and God as the source of all creative expression' (p. 125). Nothing to scare the horses here. Indeed this reading unwittingly plays into a heterosexual triumphalism, in that it tacitly assumes a universal heterosexual male perspective and obliquely alludes to the verse in Genesis in which God tells the Ur-Mann-und-Frau to be 'fruitful and multiply' (1:28). The Mad Potter calls Ohr's work 'queer' and 'fetishistic', but this language of kink turns out just to be a tease. In the end, Ohr is tediously predictable, wholly wholesome. The antiseptics of interpretation have made the work clean, tidy, and safe – ready for MoMA and your mantel. I thought I could try my hand at an interpretation that pays attention to the whole corpus.

Once that is done, one sees that the focus of Ohr's interest in genital forms, both male and female, is not on reproduction and fecundity. This is clear from the vase on the cover of my book. Here Ohr drapes labia, supine and languorous, over an erect penis. We have the demographics of reproduction – boy-girl – but the geography makes reproduction impossible. Rather Ohr's interest in genitals is part of a more general interest in vascular forms – the tubes, cavities, crannies, arteries, and chambers of the animal body, vessels that hold and release solids and liquids, that throb, convulse, ooze, and excrete. Ohr is often interested in compounding vascular forms as in the labia-penis vase, which in a blindness to male forms Mad Potter misinterprets as a 'vagina pot.'. Calling it a 'pas de deux vase' would be nearer the mark. It is not surprising, then, that with Ohr's chief focus being on ducts, tubes, the alimentary divagations of the mammalian body, Ohr should finally end up at the anus, the catchment of our being. The journey that started with an invitation to suck a pig's anus in 1882 ends with the swirling lyrical creations of the early twentieth century, works in which Ohr uses unglazed scroddled brown clays to spin out delectable abstractions of piles of excrement.

It is not surprising that anality pervades Ohr's work. It pervaded his personality. We actually know quite a bit about Ohr's life that is relevant to understanding his personality. By comparison to what we know of, say, Aeschylus' or Plato's lives that would bear on understanding their personalities, our knowledge of Ohr is positively luxurious. We have period newspaper articles about him, even some feature articles, that appeared both locally and regionally. He was fairly extensively covered in the ceramic trade journals of the time ( Brick ; Clay Worker ; Crockery and Glass Journal ; China, Pottery, and Glass Review , etc.), and even in these trade journals, the articles tended to focus on Ohr the man rather than on Ohr's work. He himself wrote some pieces for these same journals, including a truncated autobiography. We have a fair number of letters by him and we even have an epistolary short story that he incised on an umbrella stand now in the Smithsonian. We also have lots of photographs of him, many staged by him.

His erratic behavior – alternately aggressive and clutching – betokens all the dimensions of the classic anal personality type – both retentive anality, as marked by the urge to possess, retain, and hoard, and expulsive anality, as marked by emotional outbursts, temper tantrums, rants, and rages. He also manifests the typical reaction formations to these forms of anality, as manifested, on the one hand, by generosity, the giving of presents, and philanthropy, and on the other, by meticulous neatness, feelings and expressions of disgust, fear of dirt, constipation, and other overly controlled behavior. He will rant at an editor for not giving him enough attention even as he grovels to the same editor. He hoards, hoards, hoards his work, even work destroyed by a conflagration that consumed his pottery building. At other times, he will donate pieces to museums only to whisk them away when he thinks they are underappreciated. He buries pots in the woods for safe keeping. He makes a creamer with turds in it only to complain of filthy conditions in his jail cell. The bizarre naming of his children, his bizarre personal appearance, the obsessive arrangement of wares in his shop, the list could go on and on, all exemplify the various dimensions of anality. He endlessly harbored resentment and was always looking for grand ways to draw attention to his self-perceived victimhood, going so far as to advertise it on sandwich boards and to photograph himself as Moses – the man condemned to see, but never enter the promised land. Interpretive moves that turn a blind eye to or deny Ohr's anality will not help get Ohr into the promised land.

One consequence of pulling back the obfuscating veil of prudery circling Ohr is that the very thing that makes Ohr a prime candidate for a potter who could escape from the decorative arts ghetto into the circuitry of art simpliciter might also be the very thing that makes his work become less collectible, less marketable. Swirling excrement on your mantle does not a comforting teddy bear make. According to Werner Muensterberger's brilliant Collecting: An Unruly Passion (Princeton University Press, 1994), collecting is a mild neurosis, a form of magical thinking by which adults act like children who try to fend off the monsters under the bed by desperately clutching a teddy bear. The teddy bear can be a Monet painting, a Benin bronze, or ten thousand antiquarian books. In Munsterberger's view, such clutching of totems must necessarily fail, for only love from another person could adequately fend off the monsters. One will always need another teddy bear and another teddy bear still, as each fails of necessity to perform the magic it is called up on to perform. But perhaps there is another way to address the monsters and that is by embracing them, by giving up on fear. This strategy is what Ohr invites. But it is an invitation that his self-described 'disciples' cannot accept. Instead, pottery museums, pottery collectors, and pottery merchants have tried to shoot the messenger: 'Ohr {for Mohr] just seems to be [a] medium to express some oddly personal fixations'.

They claim that it is not Ohr who is anally obsessed, but the messenger. But it wasn't the messenger who made the creamer that cradles excrement, he simply analyzed it. And consider the following. In 1881, soon after learning the rudiments of potting from Joseph Meyer, Ohr set off from Biloxi on a two-year journey of self-discovery across the eastern U.S. Only two items by Ohr remain from this journey. One is a double chambered pig flask whose incised texts command the viewer to suck its snout and anus. The other is a capacity stamp incised all over its sides with the following pungent ditty worthy of Aristophanes or Rabelais (original spelling and punctuation retained):

If you want to Shit with ease
Put your Elbows on your knees.
If you Shit to fast
just shove your Nose
up my Arse


One-hundred percent of the surviving work from Ohr's journey is scatological. Ohr went on a vision quest and what he found was excrement. Or consider that the only known billhead from Ohr's Biloxi Art and Novelty Pottery is written over with a poem in which Ohr uses clusters of dots to serve as a rebus thirteen times for English's most common term for excrement, including in the poem's title, 'Fly [rebus]'. It is Ohr, not the messenger, who wrote these texts. Ohr's actual words are anything but 'soft spoken and courtly'. Sometimes his letters rant on to the point of exhaustion.

The best that the standard position can try to do with the unsettling, the explicitly sexual, the explicitly scatological in Ohr is to cabin it away, mention it only to dismiss its importance, try to claim that it is limited to his trinkets, not part of his 'real' art wares. But Ohr himself saw no principled aesthetic difference between his lesser works, the trinkets, the wares he would sell at fairs and the works which he hoarded against the hope that someday his greatness would be discovered. We know this because when he would send out his wares with a view to possible exhibition at artistic venues (the Smithsonian in 1899, Milwaukee in 1900, Buffalo in 1901), he made no distinction between his 'mere' novelty pottery and his art pottery. He sent both. Continued attempts to sanitize Ohr in order to dress him up for MoMA and mantel are a game for which the candle has already gone out.

Scattershot: Publication Matters and Credentialing

Clark leads off his review by insinuating that dark doings might have been involved in the publication of Pottery, Politics, Art . He plants the idea that the book is so bad that it could hardly have been blind refereed and wonders about possible conflicts of interest on the part of the publisher, the University of Illinois Press. True: the University of Illinois Press is a wholly owned subsidiary of my employer, the University of Illinois. But the Press's interest in the book was not the result of my being a member of the University's faculty. The Press gives no special considerations and deploys no special procedures to submissions from local faculty. Indeed, the Press had turned down an earlier book of mine. Rather, the University of Illinois Press was interested in the book because, like all university presses in America, it is interested in regional publishing, an interest which trade houses view as a greased slide to bankruptcy. That half of my book was on an Illinois topic – the Anna Pottery – was what got the book onto the Press's radar. Thanks to the book's coverage of Ohr, the University Press of Mississippi had also expressed initial interest in the project, but ultimately felt the book was not financially viable. It is a sad day when a university press is willing to put in writing that it is turning down a project for financial reasons, but there it is. Still friends of ceramics should be grateful that university presses are interested in regional publishing, because all of the university press books to appear on American art potters have been just such regional efforts, and even so, there are less than a handful of them: Peg Weiss's Adelaide Alsop Robineau: Glory in Porcelain (Syracuse University Press, 1981), Nancy Owen's Rookwood and the Industry of Art (Ohio University Press, 2001), Anita Ellis's The Ceramic Career of M. Louise McLaughlin (Ohio University Press, 2003), and my book.

My book was blind refereed. Its anonymous outside referees – referees who made themselves known to me later and whose identities were confirmed by the Press – were John Vanco, Director of the Erie Art Museum and curator there of A Peculiar Vision: The Work of George Ohr (1996), and Jonathan Weinberg, who at the time was Associate Professor of Art History at Yale University and currently is J. Clawson Mills Senior Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The book's 'Acknowledgments' section graciously and fully thanks all the people who provided illustrations for the book. I used a series of articles that I had published on Ohr's letters as calling cards to these people. Not a single collector among all those solicited asked me what I was going to say about their pieces before providing copy prints and permissions. This seemed like the right thing for them to be doing. How else is research to advance? But I infer from Clark's review – he poses himself as speaking for all image lenders, who gave 'our help' – that some lenders now, apparently out of self-interest or perceived embarrassment, would not have done the right thing had they known in advance what I was going to say. The New Yorker magazine did insist that I provide them with the exact text that would surround an illustration that I requested from them, a Saul Steinberg cartoon, before giving permission to use it. Prior to publication, a collecting couple who had provided Anna pottery images, upon seeing the page for the book in the Press's advance catalogue, tried to get the Press to remove Ohr's ' "vagina pot" ' from the book's cover.

I should perhaps mention that I have a vanishingly small financial interest in the trafficking of Anna and Ohr pottery. Alas, I own not a single piece of Anna pottery, and of Ohr I own only three extremely minor pieces – the two genital piggybanks that are illustrated on page 139 of my book, one of a combination scrotum and vagina, the other a foreskinned glans, plus a small unglazed 'crumpled hat' vase.

The book's designer, Cope Cumpston, won an award for the book's design, first prize in 2003 for a general trade book with a four-color interior, from the Chicago Book Clinic, a national trade association founded in 1936 and devoted to book publishing as a craft. As is customary, the book's design included, on the dustjacket, a note about the author – in the Press's voice, not the author's. In the note, I'm described as a 'public intellectual'. Now, a public intellectual is an academic who publishes not just in scholarly journals and with university presses but also in magazines, newspapers, and with non-university presses, and who typically also commands speakers' fees for public lectures. Since I do all those things, the Press's description is accurate and unpretentious.

Clark and the Kirkpatricks

Clark writes of the Kirkpatrick brothers that they were 'folk potters active in Illinois at the turn of the 19 th century'. Even the dustjacket of the book gives the information that the brothers were not born until 1814 and 1828 and that the Anna Pottery was not founded until the second half of the nineteenth century. That information is also provided at the start of both the introduction and first chapter. Later Clark says, 'The author illustrates many of these objects [i.e., piggy banks] in the Kirkpatricks' segment of the book, and he knows that piggy banks are shaped like pigs'. There are no illustrations of piggy banks in the Kirkpatrick chapters of the book; the pig figurals there are all flasks or, in one case, a match safe. Even the illustrations' captions identify the works as such.

Clark and Bernard Palissy

Ohr was always quite precise when comparing himself to Bernard Palissy. Though Ohr called himself a 'Second Palissy', it was not as an influence on his own distinctive shapes that Ohr invokes the Huguenot potter. Rather Ohr tells us that he hoped to accomplish in form what Palissy achieved in glazing . Based on an interview with Ohr, the journalist Della Campbell McLeod reports, 'He claims that what Palissy has accomplished in color the world will one day concede he has surpassed in shape'. The other way in which Ohr saw himself as a 'Second Palissy' was in his hope for posthumous recognition. As quoted by the Buffalo, NY, pottery critic William King, Ohr says, 'When I'm gone (like Palissy) my work will be prized, honored and cherished'. It is worth noticing that when King himself calls Ohr a second Palissy, he is simply following Ohr's lead. When by his own lights King compares a contemporary potter to Palissy, that potter is not Ohr, but Hugh Robertson of the Chelsea Keramics Art Works. See Della Campbell McLeod, 'The Potter, Poet, and Philosopher: One of the Characters of the Coast', Memphis Commercial Appeal , June 27, 1909, part 4, p. 1; William King, 'The Palissy of Biloxi', Buffalo Express , March 12, 1899, p. 4; and King's speech quoted in 'American Pottery', Buffalo Express , April 21, 1900, p. 9.

Clark and Political Correctness

Race. In a letter sent from prison to the Biloxi Herald and published there on September 7, 1909, p. 4, Ohr uses the term 'nigger' ironically of himself and does so in a way that indicates that he thinks the term should not have a place in society's arsenal of evaluation. This letter is reproduced in full and analyzed in Richard Mohr, 'Serial Potter Arrested in Biloxi: George Ohr, the Letters, Part II', Journal of the American Art Pottery Association , 17:1 (January 2001), 8-11.

Sexuality. Ohr worked in the very period in which our current categories of the homosexual and the heterosexual were crystallizing in America. Oscar Wilde included Biloxi on his 1882 lecture tour of the U.S. When Ohr produces erotic ithyphallic vases and rebuses on brothel tokens that translate as, 'You have a nice pair of balls', it would be irresponsible not to take up their possible meaning in relation to these categories.

Gender. Ohr made piggy banks in the form of both female genitals and male genitals. They all had to be smashed – male and female alike – if the owner was to get her coins out of them. There is no sexist message to be harvested here.

When in early March 1899 Ohr challenged every American, whether male or female, to show him or herself to be a better potter than he, what he had in mind was a studio potter, a potter who actually threw pots, not someone who merely decorated pots. At the time, there were only two active , female studio potters in the country, the two I mention, Adelaide Robineau and Susan Frackelton. Mary Louise McLaughlin, after a 15 year hiatus from studio potting, introduced her new porcelain studio vases in the Spring 1899 exhibition of the Cincinnati Art Museum – after Ohr's challenge. Clark's long, long list of women working at art potteries is not apposite to Ohr's call. They were decorators. They slip painted or carved vases thrown or cast by males.

Further readings

Readers of this meta-review may be interested in my other writings on George Ohr and the brothers Kirkpatrick that cover matters not addressed in the book:

  • Plagiarism as Art – Anna Pottery, Urbana, Ill., Krannert Art Museum, 2003, 32 pp. This is a museum catalogue for a show which I guest-curated on the Kirkpatricks' directory wares, their outsized jugs and floor vases incised all over with lists copied word for word, letter for letter, digit for digit from printed sources – prize lists for county fairs, city directories, corporate reports.
  • 'George Ohr, Begging, Badgering, and Batting 500: The Letters, Part I',   Journal of the American Art Pottery Association , 16:6, November 2000, pp.16-20.
  • 'Serial Potter Arrested in Biloxi: George Ohr, the Letters, Part II', Journal of the American Art Pottery Association , 17:1, January 2001, pp.8-11.
  • ' "Mud Pies for Keeps and Usefulness": George Ohr, the Letters, Part III', Journal of the American Art Pottery Association , 17:2, March 2001, pp.12-18.
  • 'Anna Pottery Art Tiles', Journal of the American Art Pottery Association , 21:1, January 2005, pp.17-19.

Some final words

In writing Pottery, Politics, Art it was my hope that in some small way it might help, over the long haul, to upgrade the critical standing of the decorative arts. The way to upgrade the decorative arts lies not in pathetic attempts to link teapots to famous, glamorous artists, as some have tried to do by linking Ohr to Jasper Johns in the last century and to Frank Gehry in this, but instead to show that the going critical methodologies by which art works are assessed and found meaningful can be fruitfully applied to the decorative arts. With the smoldering sexual and political content of their work, the brothers Kirkpatrick and George Ohr seem the perfect targets and vehicles for such a project. It is sad, sad, sad to see that even in the recently greatly expanded MoMA, Ohr is still represented by just three mediocre pieces tucked away in the ghetto of 'design'.

Author's note. Since publishing Pottery, Politics, Art in 2003, Richard Mohr has published two more books – The Long Arc of Justice: Lesbian and Gay Marriage, Equality, and Rights (Columbia University Press 2005) and God and Forms in Plato (Parmenides Publishing, distributed by the University of Chicago Press, 2005).

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Open Competition Sponsored by ICRC

Introduction to the 'Speak For Yourself' project

Jo Dahn

Ist Prize
A Collection of Small Miseries: Studio Philosophy and Project Research

Carole Hanson Epp (Canada)

2nd Prize
My Father's Razor

Sharon Blakey (UK)

Highly commended
Mimics of Everyday Life

Edith Garcia (UK based but originally USA)

Highly commended
My Hands in Clay and Other Media: The 'CASUALTIES' Project

Ozioma Onuzulike (Nigeria)

UK Student Competition, Prizes awarded by the HEAD Trust

Ist Prize
A Student's Reflection on Making Pots for Use

Olivia Horley

Joint 2nd Prize
Using Ceramics in a Mixed Media Context

Janet Roome

Joint 2nd Prize
Conservational Intervention

Yesung Kim

Reviews by:

Linda Sandino
(book review)

Garth Clark
(book review)

Richard D. Mohr
(reply to Garth Clark's review)

Wilma Cruise
(exhibition review)

Ron Wheeler
(obituary of Sid Tustin)

The 'Anamalous': A Response to my Ceramic Critics • Issue 7   Interpreting Ceramics