‘Machenery Bld” Atlanta Exposition, 1895’ is written at the bottom of one photo which shows George E. Ohr presenting his ‘Clay Novelties’. The event was known as The Cotton States and International Exposition which opened in Atlanta, Georgia in mid-September 1895. Although Ohr’s work was not selected for an award, his eccentric appearance, clay designs and charisma did not go unnoticed. The Atlanta Constituition noted Ohr’s presence at the event: “Ohr is the comical genius with the long whiskers who makes all sorts of pottery in Machinery Hall, where he is always surrounded by an admiring crowd.”(The Biloxi Daily Herald, Jan. 4th, 1896, p.8)
The ‘Clay Novelties’ Ohr would have been creating at the Atlanta Exposition would have included typical folk pottery offerings such as the log cabin inkwell or the scatological gags like the chamber pot. At his stall Ohr would have also been demonstrating how he created his craft and exhibited some of his prized art wares.
Self-proclaimed ‘Mad Potter of Biloxi’, George E. Ohr fashioned himself a persona to match his remarkably surreal pottery creations. He was the son of German immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine. Ohr’s earliest work was conventionally grounded in the tradition of Southern folk pottery.
His art wares, which he declared “completely unique, no two alike”, did not provide a reliable income – although this was because he had trouble parting with his “mud babies”. Instead, the primary source of his income came from the sale of functional wares such as his pitchers, mugs, bowls, flower pots and chimney pots.
In 1894 a fire roared through the town of Biloxi and destroyed Ohr’s Biloxi Art Pottery. This event changed the Mad Potter’s approach to his work. Although he still produced functional wares to provide a steady income, his artwork came forward in leaps and bounds. It has been noted that his creations, post-fire, show tremendous energy and fluidity.
By 1908, the struggle to achieve recognition for his art wares was becoming a strain to Ohr. In 1910 he bequeathed the pottery building to his sons and the business was turned into the Ohr Boys’ Auto Repairing Shop. It is estimated Ohr packed up and stored between 7000-10,000 “mud babies” in his attic. Although he taught and demonstrated throwing, there is no evidence Ohr created any pots after 1908 – however, he did continue to play his role as The Mad Potter of Biloxi. George E. Ohr died of cancer in 1918.
Noted by many – including himself – to be ahead of his time, Ohr stated: “When I am gone, my work will be praised, honoured, and cherished. It will come.”