Refinement Of A Pot - Poem by gershon hepner
Refinement of a pot appears effete
if you don’t like irregularities.
Once baked inside a kiln the searing heat
preserves forever angularities
that may be smoothed while it is wet and warm,
yet only when it’s finally been glazed
are faults seen in perspective, in a form
that sometimes tells the viewer: be amazed.
Inspired by Christopher Knight’s review of an exhibition of the pots of the Biloxi potter, George E. Ohr, in the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona (“Pottery with a Modernist twist, ” LA Times, December 26,2007) :
Ohr was a certified eccentric, not least as indicated by the 20-inch mustache he reportedly draped over his ears to keep from getting it tangled in the spinning potter's wheel. But he was nonetheless a gifted journeyman. The son of an Eastern European immigrant blacksmith, he was taught the potter's traditional craft by an Alsatian father-and-son team, first in Biloxi and later in New Orleans.
Ohr learned how to prepare clay, build kilns and manipulate standard glaze formulas. He also spent two years traveling the Midwest and the South examining rival production facilities, to better know the competition. He regularly visited (and sometimes showed his wares at) giant trade shows, such as Chicago's famous 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The souvenirs sold at these fairs, such as the Christopher Columbus coins designed by the preeminent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the Chicago extravaganza, might also have provided inspiration. The Pomona show includes five so-called 'brothel coins' that Ohr made for the Gulf Coast tourist trade. Each small, unglazed clay disk pairs words with a low-relief image to make a verbal-visual rebus: 'I love U' written above a leaping deer; 'let's go 2' above a bed; and other, bawdier couplings. A far cry from Saint-Gaudens' lofty allusion to classical Roman coins, Ohr's comic souvenirs reflected his own oddball character. In a nation uncomfortable with art, being wacky could function as a defensive mechanism - as a wink and a nod that minimized the threat of being taken seriously. With nothing left to lose after his pottery burned to the ground, Ohr unleashed his expert technical skill. Rather than return to producing utilitarian dishes and vases for the home, he began to play with conventional ceramic forms. He began to make art. Pomona is the first stop on a tour prepared by Biloxi's Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, whose large collection happily survived the brutal assault of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Twenty-eight of the pieces are from the museum's collection, while the rest have been lent by private collections in Mississippi and California.
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