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Overbeck Pottery Blue Bowl with Deer, 20th Century


Four Hoosier sisters—Margaret, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary Frances Overbeck—established one of America’s most prominent pottery studios in Cambridge City, in Wayne County, Indiana. The eldest, Margaret (1863–1911), is credited as the force behind the founding of the studios. She studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 1892–93 and again in 1898–99. She moved to New York City to study ceramics with Marshal T. Fry and was also a pupil of Arthur Wesley Dow at his summer school in Ipswich. She was a teacher at schools in Kentucky and Missouri as well as at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. During the summer of 1910, she worked as a decorator for a pottery studio in Zanesville, Ohio. Unfortunately, Margaret died in 1911, shortly after the studio opened, but the other sisters carried on the work they had started.

Hannah (1870–1931) took classes at the Art Academy of Cincinnati after she finished high school. She taught for a year, but ill health forced her to return home. For 20 years, she served as the chief designer for the studio and drew inspiration from the natural world. Her designs included flowers, incised lines, and colored patterns. Elizabeth (1875–1936) studied ceramics with renowned ceramicist Charles Fergus Binns at his New York School of Clayworking (now the New York State School of Ceramics and Material Science at Alfred University) during the summer of 1910. After Margaret’s death, Elizabeth became the primary potter and technician, preparing the glazes, working the clay on the wheel, and firing the finished pots. She was elected to the American Ceramic Society in 1936. Mary Frances (1878–1955) attended classes at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and also studied with Arthur Wesley Dow along with Margaret, most likely during the summer of 1909. She was responsible for most of the painting, finishing, and glazing of the pots before they were fired, and also painted most of the human and animal figures.

  • Blue Bowl with Deer, 20th century
  • 7 1/2″ x 8 1/2″
  • Midwest Museum of American Art
  • Keywords: ceramics, vessels, glazed clay
  • Subjects: bowls, vessels, deer

The Overbeck Sisters founded the Overbeck Pottery studio in their home in Cambridge City, Indiana, in 1911 and continued to create one-of-a-kind pieces until 1955, when Mary Overbeck died. The Overbeck Museum states on its Web site ( that Mary never revealed the distinctive glaze formulas she and her sisters were famous for. The unique contribution of the Overbeck Sisters to the field of ceramics was that they were responsible for every step in the production process, from designing and decorating the pottery to firing it; this was unusual for the time. Their work can be viewed as part of the Arts and Crafts movement that swept the nation at the beginning of the 20th century, a movement that placed emphasis on the craftsmanship of handmade works of art. Among their most notable works were those with matte glazes and those with bright turquoise and heliotrope decoration in a glossier glaze, such as Blue Bowl with Deer.

According to the Overbeck Museum, “The pottery was all hand-made on the potter’s wheel or hand-built. . . . The wheel-made pieces generally have a smooth surface—the hand-built a surface uneven, showing dim finger marks. Each piece was specially designed and never duplicated—both shape and decoration being used only once. The glazes were originated by Miss Elizabeth and were the potter’s exclusive property. In this work every effort was made to harmonize the decoration perfectly with the piece decorated.”

Some Points To Consider

  • Discuss with students the Arts and Crafts movement in Indiana. What goods did Hoosiers manufacture in this style? (Economics 4.4.1; Art 4.1.1, 4.1.2)
  • Ask students to describe the use of color, pattern, shape, and line in the bowl. How did the artist create movement? (Art 4.3.1)