Overbeck Pottery was established in 1911 by sisters Margaret, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary Frances Overbeck in their Cambridge City, Indiana home with the goal of producing high-quality, entirely handmade ceramics as a form of income. Margaret, who died the year the pottery was established, had trained at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and also studied with influential designer Arthur Wesley Dow at Columbia University and with New York china painter and potter Marshall Fry. Hannah was a skilled sketch artist and watercolorist who was responsible for much of the pottery’s decorative designs. Elizabeth, the technician of the enterprise, studied ceramics under Charles Fergus Binns at the New York School for Clayworking in Alfred, New York. She formulated glazes, oversaw the kiln, and was the only sister who threw pottery on a wheel. Mary Frances, like Margaret, also studied with Arthur Wesley Dow and Marshall Fry and was trained in oil, watercolor, and pen-and-ink illustration. Along with her sister Hannah, Mary Frances designed and decorated the pottery.
In 1911 the Arts and Crafts movement was rapidly expanding throughout the United States, with pottery in particular being considered a respectable profession for middle-class women like the Overbecks. While most American potteries at the time were primarily staffed by women, the majority were owned by men. The Overbeck operation was unique in that it was entirely owned, managed, and staffed by women. The sisters managed to make a modest living from their pottery and were financially independent, a rarity for women at that time. That they accomplished this while maintaining a wholly original artistic vision is a testament to their talent, hard work, and determination. Each piece of pottery was handcrafted and entirely unique, simple, functional, and inspired by nature.
Because the sisters could afford little in the way of advertising, their notoriety grew through word-of-mouth, exhibitions, awards, and the publication of their designs in periodicals such as Keramic Studio. They exhibited regularly at the Indiana State Fair, won awards for their entries at the Richmond Art Fair in 1927 and the Indiana Artists Exhibition in 1928, and received an honorable mention at the Robineau Memorial Ceramic Exhibition at Syracuse in 1934. Their work was also exhibited in Paris as well as at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago in 1933. Following the deaths of Margaret, Hannah, and Elizabeth, Mary Frances operated the business on her own beginning in 1936 until her death in 1955, at which point the pottery closed.
The Overbeck’s Cambridge City home/studio was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and their pottery is considered to be some of the finest produced in the Arts and Crafts movement.
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