Sunday, October 5, 2008

George Ohr Fall Festival

Want a fun and expensive outing? Well dearest hubby and I had it this weekend. We headed to the 15th Annual George Ohr Fall Festival of Arts, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 4 and 5, Biloxi Town Green. . . More than 100 art booths are expected again this year, as well as great regional food and live music. Highlights of the festival . . . include: the popular Potters Games (founded by Scott Young), Celebrity Pot Throwing, a fun Mustache Contest, as well as pinch pots, T-shirt painting, street painting and public art competitions, and a large booth both days full of art activities for children. (

For $4.00 the two of us were able to be entertained, be outside, be together, and see some beautiful art (that we couldn't afford but would love to have) and enjoyed watching the potters have their fun while they had to make a pot blindfolded--with the tallest pot winning; watch them attempt to make a pot with one hand while a non-craftsman used one hand to help them. What a hoot that was to watch! In addition we saw many, many booths that were hawking their wares--ok, they weren't hawking, they were sitting there quietly while people walked by and browsed with few sales (thank you economy for no one wanting to buy the "extras" in life). But we did get some very good ideas for making things ourselves, things we can go back to their websites or to other art festivals in the area before Christmas for Christmas gifts. Of course, there won't be a lot of gifts at those prices!

But who is George Orr and why is there a festival? Well for that, we need to go back a bit in history.
George E. Ohr, another visionary artist whose work went unappreciated during his lifetime, then rose to prominence years after his death. Ohr (1857-1918) was born in Biloxi, Mississippi and trained as a commercial potter of utilitarian ware. However, he grew increasingly interested in the expressive possibilities of clay. His experimentations began by altering his wheel-thrown works via allowing the centrifugal force of the wheel itself to create pots that twisted, folded, leaned, bent and buckled eccentrically.Indeed, the theatricality of his work mirrored Ohr’s flamboyant persona and physical appearance, sealed by his signature massive mustache and wild eyes. An inveterate self-promoter, he proclaimed himself “The Mad Potter of Biloxi,” at state fairs, international expositions and other venues, where he exhibited and sold his work. Ohr also hand made souvenir pottery for tourists, some of it hilariously bawdy in nature. For example, his press-molded brothel coins contained clever word/picture phrases with sexual messages, such as “Good for One Screw,” with the last word presented as a pictorial screw embossed on the coin.

Critics of that time denounced Ohr’s unconventional work as ugly or bizarre, and, again, it went virtually unrecognized during his lifetime. Today, with all of hindsight’s sad and predictable irony, people recognize and celebrate the work as a valuable precursor to the Abstract Expressionists’ attitude toward clay during the 1950’s, and the renewed interest in the art pottery movement during the 1970’s.
So the Mad Potter of Biloxi, who didn't become famous until his son went to look for car parts and discovered the remaining pieces of George E. Ohr's work, 6,000 pieces--hidden for so many years. an antique dealer, Jim Carpenter, bought all of the pieces for what now would be considered pennies, but then (1960s) was quite a bit--$50,000. And what has happened to all of those pieces? They've been sold and turned over to this person or that through the years. Currently viewers can see forty of Ohr’s key works in this exhibition, “Ohr Rising: The Emergence of an American Master,” which was organized by the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi. The word “Rising” in the show’s title refers both to Ohr’s ascendance into the contemporary art world and the “rise from destruction” theme taken on by Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in its ongoing effort to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

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