Until recently, there were three other books on legendary potter George E. Ohr in print. Now, they are joined by three others:
Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr Eccentric Genius
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Book Press, New York 2013.
Hardcover with jacket, 54 pages. Color and black and white images, 8.75 x 10 inches, $17.99.
Ellen J. Lippert
George Ohr: Sophisticate and Rube
University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2013
Hardcover, linen with jacket, 163 pages, color and black and white images, 6 x 9.5 inches, $40.
George Ohr: The Greatest Art Potter on Earth
Skira Rizzoli, New York in association with the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, Biloxi Miss. 2013. With prefaces by Denny Meecham, Eugene Hecht, David Rago and Garth Clark. Hardcover with jacket, numerous color and and black and white images, 9.6 x 11 inches, $50.
The three older Ohr books were the pioneering volume in large format, The Mad Potter of Biloxi: The Art and Life of George E. Ohr (Abbeville Press, 1989 by Garth Clark, Robert Ellison, Eugene Hecht), a bizarre screed that examines Ohr’s anality a little too deeply for comfort; Pottery, Politics, Art: George Ohr and the Brothers Kirkpatrick (University of Illinois Press 2007 by James Mohr) and a stunning visual portfolio, George Ohr, Art Potter: The Apostle of Individuality (Scala Publishers, New York 2006 by Robert Ellison). Ellison is both an author and an amazing photographer of works from his own collection, many of which are now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
If you have the earlier books, do you need one of the three new ones? That will depend upon three things: are you a child, do you enjoy academic writing or do you want to go on a informative and hugely entertaining romp with George?
Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr Eccentric Genius is a book for teens. Therefore, issues like the potter’s penchant for vaginal forms and his production of brothel tokens are avoided. It’s a great book for a G-rated introduction.
The authors have won awards for children’s books. The text does not talk down to younger subjects and it would even be ideal for adult education classes. It is nicely illustrated and priced ($13.86 at Amazon).
It is difficult to recommend Ellen J. Lippert’s, George Ohr: Sophisticate and Rube. The photography is disappointing (poor printing and small images) and the University Press of Mississippi is in desperate need of a contemporary graphic designer.
Lippert writes well and accurately enough but she communicates little enthusiasm. One can put this down to academic distance, which is not always a bad thing given the hokey hyperbole Ohr often attracts. But it also results in her subject’s extra-ordinariness being flattened into ordinariness. Indeed, one feels that she does not “get” Ohr in the deeper sense.
Lippert’s text both broadens and narrows the discussion. The background of the arts and crafts movement is increased and the notion of Ohr as an avant-garde artist is all but removed. This modest volume adds little to the subject and is unreasonably expensive, even at the Amazon price of $32.24.
Eugene Hecht’s George Ohr: The Greatest Art Potter on Earth is simply a big book in every sense of the term. The color illustrations are sumptuous, many and mostly full page. The book design is exceptional (look for it as a contender in CFile’s design awards in September). The scholarship is exceptional.
There is a wealth of new research between these covers and Hecht has done heavy lifting in correcting Ohr’s mangled history, separating truth from both Ohr’s penchant for exaggeration and the many, tenacious, beguiling but fictional legends that have been attached the the Mad Potter. I have to admit, I’m sad to see some of these legends debunked.
Hecht is also an academic like Lippert, a noted physics professor, but there is no sense of this in the work except for the impeccable structure, fastidious footnoting and other scholar’s tools used to good effect. He writes with color and vibrancy and sets off on his journey explaining Ohr with such enthusiasm that the reader cannot help but plunge headlong into his narrative.
Fascinatingly, without being patronizing or obvious, Hecht is able to weave subtle and occasional folk cadences in his own writing. A word here and a phrase there emerge quite naturally. This light but sophisticated country twang gives Ohr a voice throughout.
In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I did contribute a short preface to this book. That has not skewed my judgement. On the contrary, I am a competing Ohr writer. As such, I must reluctantly declare that this is the best Ohr book to date, a must for libraries public and private. George Ohr: The Greatest Art Potter on Earth is a bargain even at full retail ($50), let alone its Amazon price ($34.12).
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile and has been writing about George Ohr since 1976.
Above image: Three new books approach George Ohr (pictured here) from different angles.
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