Living

Kat Bergeron: A Coast clay trip down Memory Lane

KAT BERGERON/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALDArt potter George Ohr, who died in the early 1900s, has a museum dedicated to him in hometown Biloxi. It was designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, who admires Ohr's odd and whimsical clay shapes, both personally and in the museum's design.
KAT BERGERON/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALDArt potter George Ohr, who died in the early 1900s, has a museum dedicated to him in hometown Biloxi. It was designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, who admires Ohr's odd and whimsical clay shapes, both personally and in the museum's design.

Clay is rarely thought of as an autumn color, but it should be on the Mississippi Coast where fall festivals highlight the best of regional foods, arts, crafts, music and cultural traditions.

Shelves of pottery, ceramics and whimsical clay sculptures beckon from Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula, with the matriarch of festivals homeporting in Ocean Springs Nov. 7 and 8 at the 37th annual Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival.

This giant street party attracts over 100,000 people to 400-plus booths.

For more than a century the Coast has nurtured potters who sometimes carve out national names for themselves.

This was brought home in 1932 when The Daily Herald, as this newspaper was then called, published an article titled "Enjoyable Automobile Drives."

Eighty-three years ago more Americans were beginning to be able to afford personal automobiles and the call of the road was strong as we ventured beyond normal stomping grounds.

This old Herald article affirms what we recognize in the 21st century: That clay is a strong force in the Coast's artistic sense of place.

Happily, the main clay-shaping characters mentioned in the 1932 article -- art potter George Ohr of Biloxi and the Anderson brothers of Ocean Springs' Shearwater Pottery -- are still revered on the Coast.

Another pottery aficionado also mentioned, Mrs. S.A. Carnes, illustrates how pottery sales continue to be important to the Coast economy. For a number of years her Biloxi showroom featured Jugtown pottery, a utilitarian ware first made in colonial times in North Carolina and featuring salt glazes of bright colors.

The Jan. 14, 1932, article, writer unknown, is reprinted here.

"Perhaps you'll find yourself 'pottery minded' some day. If or when you do that will be the day to visit potteries on the Coast. Some few years ago the first stop would have been with George Ohr in Biloxi, who was famous for his pieces made only by wheel. His fame was so wide that he was permitted -- was it the Pike or Midway Plaisance -- anyway, the street of novelty booths at St. Louis World's Fair -- and he later taught in the St. Louis schools for awhile.

"His wheel was secured a few years ago by one of the Anderson boys in Ocean Springs and setting it up under a tree in their home over there, he had lessons from a former associate of Geo. Ohr's, Joseph Fortune Meyer, who was then living on Deer Island.

"From that beginning, the Sheerwater Pottery has developed with all of the Anderson family, Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, their three sons and the daughter-in-law, each interested in some phase of the work. From a small workbench and kiln, the project has grown until now there are several work rooms, at least two kilns and an enlarged show room, a wide variety of finished articles, and plans for the addition of perhaps hooked rugs, textiles, etc.

"Sheerwater Pottery has within the last three months been written up in such mediums as 'Interior Architecture and Decoration,' 'Home and Field,' 'Home and Garden,' 'Arts and Decoration,' New York Times magazine section, 'Creative Art,' 'Christian Science Monitor,' etc.

"One writer stated that the Andersons were self-taught Mississippians, examples of the melting pot. One brief visit to the show rooms and a casual meeting with any of the family would disprove the statement -- each has had training in art, pottery, architecture, drawing -- from excellent teachers and well known schools.

"Other pottery, distinctive, which has been shown by Mrs. S.A. Carnes out West Beach, Biloxi, for several years is the 'Jugtown pottery' made in North Carolina and is historic in pattern, color and use. Here interest will be divided between the pottery itself and Mrs. Carnes' illuminating talks on its beginnings and uses.

"Some of the Sung designs are the same as those made 600 B.C. The men who make this pottery now are lineal descendants of the earliest American settlers, and through all the years, these families have made pottery for the family uses. Bread dishes, bean pots, milk jugs, plates, cups, pitchers, a full compliment of pottery utensils for cooking and table use.

"Both these wares are now known all over the United States -- don't fail to visit them."

Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or c/o Sun Herald Newsroom, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535-4567.

  Comments