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The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius Hardcover – October 29, 2013
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From School Library Journal
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 Journalα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* Chances are you have never heard of George Ohr (1857–1918) of Biloxi, Mississippi. An eccentric who called himself The Mad Potter, he created wheel-thrown pots that he pinched and bent, curved and rippled, wrinkled and dimpled into distinctive shapes before adding original glazes. When those pots didn’t sell, he continued to make them, while supporting his family by producing useful wares and amusing knickknacks. Ohr’s flamboyant personality and preposterous advertising drew tourists to his studio but earned him disdain in the art community. Still, he believed that future generations would recognize his genius. And oddly enough, they did. Rediscovered in the 1970s, his highly praised art pottery is now displayed in museums, including one designed by Frank Gehry and dedicated to Ohr’s work. The artist comes to life in this clearly written narrative, full of well-chosen details and anecdotes. Fine vintage photos show Ohr at work and with his family. Viewers accustomed to the usually staid photographs from the period will be amused by pictures in which Ohr’s tomfoolery and bravado are as evident as his wild mustache. Throughout the book, color photos of his art pottery remind readers that Ohr’s story is worth telling not just because it’s entertaining, but because his pots are unique and beautiful. This informative introduction to the artist who made them closes with exemplary back matter that will help readers of all ages approach art with enthusiasm and confidence. Grades 3-6. --Carolyn Phelan
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I would read this aloud to 3rd-5th grade students (over a few days). After reading a chapter or two, you might model (gradually releasing the writing to the students) responding to a prompt like the following:
How does George Ohr develop his identity as a potter?
What did George Ohr do to develop his skills as a potter? Why is this important to consider?
How was George Ohr eccentric? (Define eccentric in student-friendly terms like “tending to act in strange or unusual ways.”)
If you want students to develop a stronger sense of Ohr’s disposition, you might engage students in a close reading of pages 38-39.