The initiative was closely tied to the environment of the South. “The whole thing was to be a Southern product, made of Southern clays, by Southern artists, decorated with Southern subjects,” Sheerer wrote in the 2010 book Makers: A History of American Studio Craft. Indeed, Newcomb Pottery typically depicted quintessential New Orleans flora and fauna—magnolias, wisteria, cranes, daffodils—in local clay collected on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.
Within a few years, as the pottery enterprise gained national and international renown with shows in Paris, New York, Virginia, and San Francisco, sales increased dramatically and interest in the classes grew. The school even had to erect a new building dedicated solely to ceramics.
The designs and compositions continued to evolve as the artisans experimented with new colors and clay formulations. In 1925, Sheerer attended the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris, bringing back with her various
elements that crept into her students’ new, more abstract designs.
Still, the best-selling pottery designs usually called for references to the Gulf South that appealed to the buying public. Many of the decorators grew tired of rendering romantic motifs of moonlit moss, not to mention the meager pay. Noting the long hours, lack of prospects, and “narrow style of design,” at least one of the decorators, Sabina Wells, threatened “open rebellion.”
And innovative though the Newcomb mission was, it was nevertheless curtailed by racism and gender bias: Only white women were accepted into the school, and it was men who primarily threw the clay. As Friel says, those were simply the times, especially in the South. Co-education was “socially inappropriate,” so the college stood separate from Tulane. “Initially, women were only to conceive and execute the designs and not partake in the ‘man’s work’ of preparing, throwing, and firing the clay,” he says.