Marie de Hoa LeBlanc and Early Newcomb Designs
by Adrienne Spinozzi
Marie de Hoa LeBlanc was one of the most accomplished and prolific decorators during the early period of production at Newcomb Pottery. Along with her older sister Emilie de Hoa LeBlanc (1870-1941), Marie’s work stands out for its beautiful execution and creative interpretations of nature.
Born on November 23, 1874, in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a family of noted Creole descent, Marie was one of the five children of Charles Emile LeBlanc and Elizabeth Eulalie de Hoa. Marie was very close to her older sister, Emilie, and both girls exhibited early talent in art. Marie was first listed as a student at the H. Sophie Newcomb College during the 1891-92 school year, having entered Newcomb at the age of 16. She and Emilie were involved with the pottery from its beginning, and their work was included in Newcomb’s first public exhibition of china painting and decorated pottery in June 1896. By March 1897, their work attracted attention:
“An exhibit that, though small, is of great importance in art circles – is the collection of pottery from the Newcomb College. Though of barely a year’s growth, specimens of this ware are gradually attracting attention, and during the carnival visitors from other large cities, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington and Cincinnati were among the admiring purchasers … The vases and placques [sic] at the Artists’ Association are the artistic work of Misses Katherine Kopman, Selina Bres, [Marie Medora] Ross, E. M. H. Le Blanc, Marie Le Blanc, A. Roman and Mary Sheerer.”
LeBlanc graduated from the school’s Normal Art Program in 1898, and the following year was listed as a Graduate Art Student, a requirement for anyone interested in pursuing work as a craftswoman at Newcomb Pottery. By the middle of the 1890s, the curriculum in the Art Department at Newcomb College included lessons in historical styles and conventionalized design, and she undoubtedly received such instruction. The students would have been familiar with the various published manuals offering such designs, including Owen Jones’s “Grammar of Ornament,” Auguste Racinet’s “Polychromatic Ornament,” A. E. Lilley and W. Midgley’s “A Book of Studies in Plant Form and Design,” and Lewis F. Day’s “Nature in Ornament.”
Although LeBlanc is not formally listed as a Pottery Designer until the 1901-02 academic year, examples of the artist’s work from the period between 1897 and 1901 reveal the artist’s proficiency for painting ceramics at a young age, and a growing sophistication and understanding of contemporary design principles. LeBlanc’s precocious talent and potential did not go unnoticed. In 1902 the Newcomb faculty awarded LeBlanc with a scholarship to attend the Ross Lectures at Harvard University. Denman Waldo Ross (1853-1935), a professor in the architectural department at Harvard, offered a summer course called “Theory of Design: Lectures, with experimental practice, for designers, for teachers of Design, and for teachers of the History of Art.” The course was offered from 1899 to 1914; in 1901, professor of Pottery Decoration at Newcomb, Mary Given Sheerer, attended the course, and the following year both LeBlanc sisters attended, as well as fellow decorator, Gertrude Roberts Smith. These lectures on design theory and art had a great impact on a number of artisans of the period, as did the teaching method of artist, writer, and educator, Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922), whose Summer School in Ipswich, Massachusetts also attracted many practicing artists and art teachers.
Marie de Hoa LeBlanc was a versatile and gifted artist, and the range of wares she made at Newcomb Pottery attest to her mastery in the decorating studio. An exceptional example is a covered jar with violets, the form and decoration perfectly suited to the shape. (Fig.1) The top half of the piece is a design of overlapping blue violets with yellow centers, finely executed and proportioned, while the green stems are unified with a border at the foot. The decoration of blossoms on the lid further integrates the top and bottom. Here, LeBlanc exhibits her ability to design a detailed floral composition in the round and her keen precision when incising the clay. In addition to her noted floral designs, in 1902 LeBlanc designed a series of vases depicting animals in repeating patterns. These works drew critical attention at the time they were made and continue to be coveted by astute collectors today.
The period between 1902 and 1905 seems to have been an especially fruitful and inspired one for Marie de Hoa LeBlanc. In 1904, she won another scholarship, this time for European travel and study. Her trip abroad that summer coincided with the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis where LeBlanc exhibited four pieces of decorated pottery for which she received a bronze medal. LeBlanc’s trip abroad in 1904 may have inspired a lifelong quest of travel and exploration. Documents show that in 1908 she traveled extensively throughout Russia, Turkey, and Egypt – a trip that lasted four months. That same year she is listed as a teacher in the New Orleans City Directory. Not surprisingly, this seems to be about the time she stops decorating for Newcomb Pottery (1909 appears to be the latest date). The pottery was also undergoing changes as well, in both style and technical developments, with the introduction of the matte glaze.
LeBlanc continued to be active in New Orleans’ artistic circles. In 1911 she exhibited two oil paintings; in 1912 she was a New Orleans delegate to the International Art Congress in Dresden, Germany; and in 1913 she taught drawing at Belleville Elementary School.
LeBlanc never married and she lived with her sister Emilie until Emilie’s death in 1941. Marie continued to teach art in local New Orleans schools and traveled extensively for months at a time. Over the course of her life, her travels included Central and South America; Europe – France, Italy, and Germany; Egypt, Palestine, India, China, and Japan. Although her active dates as a decorator at Newcomb Pottery lasted about a decade, she continued to be very involved with the arts of her home town until her death in 1954.
Adrienne Spinozzi is a Research Associate in the American Wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a graduate of Hartwick College and the Bard Graduate Center. This article originally appeared in The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms’ newsletter “Notes from the Farms” (Summer 2016). A special exhibition of Newcomb Pottery from the Barbara and Henry Fuldner Collection, which included a number of the objects designed by Maria de Hoa LeBlanc, was featured at the museum in 2016. This exhibit will be revisited at the 30th Annual Arts & Crafts Conference in February in Asheville, NC, in a display titled, “Early Newcomb Pottery in Mr. Stickley’s Home.”
You can read Adrienne Spinozzi’s complete article on Maria de Hoa LeBlanc at stickleymuseum.org.