The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius


When George Ohr's trove of pottery was discovered in 1967, years after his death, his true genius was discovered with it. The world could finally see how unique this artist really was!

Born in 1856 in Biloxi, Mississippi, George grew up to the sounds of the civil war and political unrest. When he was 22, his boyhood friend introduced him to the pottery wheel. The lost young man suddenly found his calling.

"When I found the potter's wheel I felt...

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The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius

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When George Ohr's trove of pottery was discovered in 1967, years after his death, his true genius was discovered with it. The world could finally see how unique this artist really was!

Born in 1856 in Biloxi, Mississippi, George grew up to the sounds of the civil war and political unrest. When he was 22, his boyhood friend introduced him to the pottery wheel. The lost young man suddenly found his calling.

"When I found the potter's wheel I felt it all over like a duck in water."

He started creating strangely crafted pots and vases, expressing his creativity and personality through the ceramic sculptures. Eventually he had thousands at his fingertips. He took them to fairs and art shows, but nobody was buying these odd figures from this bizarre man. Eventually he retired, but not without hiding hundreds of his ceramics.

Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, authors of the award winning Ballet for Martha, approach this colorful biography with a gentle and curious hand.

A 2014 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Any man who names his children Leo, Clo, Lio, Oto, Flo, Zio, Ojo, and Geo is a man worth a second look. Born just before the Civil War, George E. Ohr brought his quirky sense of humor to his pottery workshop in Biloxi, Miss., and to everything he touched. He couldn’t sell his eccentrically shaped, brilliantly glazed “art pottery,” so he made himself a tourist attraction, selling piggy banks, puzzle mugs, and clay models of ladies’ shoes. In spite of his shameless self-promotion (“Greatest Art Potter on Earth. You prove the contrary”), no serious attention was given to his work until 50 years after his death, when an antiques dealer found his pots and they brought fantastic sums at auction. Greenberg and Jordan (Ballet for Martha) don’t mention what drew them to Ohr’s work, but their detailed biography is supported by a rich trove of sepia photographs and color reproductions of the pots. Whether the book spurs readers’ interest in ceramics, it will certainly prod them to ask themselves if they’re really living life to the fullest. Ages 7–12. Agent: George Nicholson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

*"Unique and beautiful." - Booklist, starred review
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Pots on shelves, pots on the floor, pots hanging from nails ... Ohr's studios were always teeming with pots both useful and eccentric. Most eccentric of all was the potter himself, dedicated to producing utterly unique and fanciful work as the "greatest art potter on Earth." Born in Biloxi just before the Civil War, George tried many jobs before finding his ultimate profession as a potter of works of all shapes, sizes, decoration, and colors. He dug his own clay and mixed his own glazes. Though buyers and the art world did not seem ready for Ohr's unusual wares, he persisted, built several studios, survived a fire, married, and fathered ten children. He considered his outsized personality, moustache, and advertising style to be assets. Though he exhibited often and won a silver medal at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904, he finally packed up his pots and retired, only to become a demon motorcyclist. After his death, George's pots stayed in their crates till 1930, when an art dealer spotted some and introduced them to a more receptive world. Now they are worth thousands of dollars apiece. Illustrations are marvelous period photos of Ohr, his studios, and his ceramics—only the pots are in color, showing off twists and turns, stripes and spots, holes and wrinkles. Kids and adults can admire a green teapot with a huge snake for a handle, a brown vessel covered with shiny ruffles, or a tall red vase with a twisted neck. Art-lovers can visit the bold Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi to see his work, while two pages show readers how to "look at a pot" or to use a potter's wheel; a bibliography and a set of helpful notes are included. This gorgeous volume is a "must" for any art book collection. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal
★ 09/01/2013
Gr 5–8—Ohr was a homegrown genius and the greatest artist potter on Earth, or so he claimed, and while dismissed by many as a self-promoting eccentric (he was that), much of what he declared about himself is recognized as true today. His pottery, notably inventive in its shapes, textures, and glazes, became more experimental and free-flowing in form after 1894, when fire destroyed his kiln. While clearly distinct, Ohr's art was not outsider; he subscribed to the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, and for a short time worked with Joseph Meyer furnishing pottery for the women of The Ladies' Decorative Arts League in New Orleans. But Ohr was quirky, flamboyant, and a Biloxi, Mississippi, tourist attraction; he had a bushy handlebar mustache that he could wrap around his ears, and he was often difficult. The authors do an excellent job describing this larger-than-life character through quotes and plentiful color photos of his pottery, or "mud babies" as he referred to his creations. Of particular interest are the archival sepia photos, including the two large, double-page images depicting the artist in his barnlike studio with piles and piles of his work-and several children-about, that open and close the book. A one-page guide on "How to Look at a Pot" examines a decorative piece with reference to texture, color, form, line, and expression. Extensive source notes round out this nicely designed, fascinating introduction to the master craftsman and art pottery.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Greenberg and Jordan bring to life George E. Ohr, a 19th-century American potter largely unknown today and not especially successful in his own day. George Ohr proclaimed himself the "Greatest Art Potter on Earth." From the wild-eyed and mustachioed portrait on the cover to the artist's own words sprinkled throughout the text in boldfaced, oversized typefaces, Ohr's eccentricities and his penchant for self-promotion are clearly presented. What is not made clear is why Ohr's work is considered great. What makes a George E. Ohr vase sell at auction nowadays for $84,000, and is he really America's greatest art potter? Certainly his work is whimsical, as demonstrated by the many full-color photographs of Ohr's work--vases tilting like leaning towers, a teapot with a spout like an open-mouthed serpent, and all manner of wrinkled, twisted and squashed vessels. Unfortunately, the text doesn't equal the volume's visual appeal. Poorly developed paragraphs, too-abrupt transitions between and within paragraphs, occasionally awkward phrasing and quirky punctuation make this volume less successful than it might have been. The backmatter, however, is interesting, including information about the Frank Gehry–designed museum that houses the Ohr collection and lessons in "How to Look at a Pot" and how to use a potter's wheel. A fascinating introduction to an innovative artist worthy of a more effective text. (bibliography, source notes) (Nonfiction. 7-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596438101
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Publication date: 10/29/2013
  • Pages: 56
  • Sales rank: 328,320
  • Age range: 7 - 11 Years
  • Lexile: NC1070L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan are the authors of many distinguished books about art, including Action Jackson and Christo And Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond. Their most recent collaboration, Ballet for Martha, earned five starred reviews and a Sibert Honor. Ms. Greenberg lives in St. Louis, Missouri. Ms. Jordan lives in New York, New York.

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