Overbeck pottery


Pottery produced in the midst of the Arts and Crafts movement in Cambridge City, Indiana in a family enterprise ceramics factory founded in 1911. The business was run exclusively by the Overbeck sisters, educated women who had been raised to be independent, industrious and avoiding of marriage because it could thwart their potential: Elizabeth (1875-1936; Hannah (1870-1931; Margaret (1863-1911) and Mary Frances (1878-1955). In the book about the operation, "The Chronicle of a Studio Pottery???, Elizabeth Overbeck said that initially ???No one concerned in the enterprise had any practical experience in clay working or was even personally familiar with the simplest of pottery making as carried on in a factory.??? (59). The pottery was distinctive for its rich colors, active designs and unique shapes. Margaret Overbeck is credited with being the main initiator of the operation, and the other sisters were already adept at china painting, having won many design competitions in a monthly pottery and decorator magazine. Before embarking on the business venture, Margaret and Mary studied with Arthur Dow, a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. The same year the business opened, Margaret died, and the remaining three stayed the course with Elizabeth being the potter and firing technician, Mary painting, finishing and glazing; and Hannah doing the decorative designs, sometimes from sketches left by Margaret. The sisters lived simply, wore simple clothing and remained in the family home, using the parlor for a studio and another room as the showroom. The kiln was in a shed in the backyard. The early pieces were utilitarian such as cups and saucers, but the later work was more purely decorative. Most pieces are identified by the incised initials ???OBK???, and sometimes to the left under the monogram is the first initial of the potter. For many years, the three sisters struggled in their determination to live only from the profits of their work, but ???for the Overbecks , living well meant making art,???. . .Their operating philosophy was to pre-plan a work completely before execution, make each piece unique, and create a design motif from nature. In 1936, Elizabeth was elected a Fellow of the American Ceramic Society, making her the most publicly visible of the group. Eight months later she died, which brought an end to the unique enterprise as Hannah had died five years earlier. Mary carried on until her death in 1955, which ended the production of Overbeck pottery, whose formula went to the grave with Mary but whose pottery has become highly collectible. The production had numbered many thousands of pieces, and it was written that ???their real genius lay in their complex Art Deco designs and subtle matte glazes . . . the sisters??? design contribution alone should secure their firm???s position as one of the best art potteries in the country???. (69) Source: Judith Vale Newton and Carol Ann Weiss, "Skirting the Issue"