George E. Ohr: America’s First Art Potter Lesson Plan

Karla Smith


The state of Mississippi is home to some of the most well-known personalities in the world of visual arts. The state has an environment of natural beauty and it has served as the ideal location for the cultivation of creative and artistic expression. The Mississippi Gulf Coast was one of the first locations in the state to produce visual artists. Even though George E. Ohr of Biloxi began making pottery in the late 1800s, it would not be until after his death that he would receive national acclaim. Ohr struggled during his lifetime to achieve recognition and relied heavily upon the tactics of showmanship to attract business. Ohr was a visionary who understood the need to market his art. Through his outrageous behavior he not only attracted visitors to his art studio, but he also earned the title of "Mad Potter of Biloxi."


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, 4 and 6.


Grades 4 through 12.


  • Mississippi History Now article, “George E. Ohr, America’s First Art Potter”
  • Blank or unlined paper for timelines, poems and books
  • Pencil and/or pen
  • Colored pencils and markers
  • Rulers
  • Project board
  • Construction paper
  • Various resource books on George Ohr and Mississippi history
  • George Ohr information:


Students will:

  • Construct a timeline of significant events in the life of George E. Ohr.
  • Compose a poem about the life of George E. Ohr.
  • Create a story book about the life of George E. Ohr.
  • Create a museum display about a specific event in the life of George E. Ohr.
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation about the life of George E. Ohr.


The teacher will ask the students to verbally respond to the following questions: (Student responses to the first two questions can be recorded on the whiteboard)

  • What makes one person unique from another? (Personality, etc.)
  • If you were a businessperson and wanted people to buy your products, how might your personality affect your business? (Necessary to be fair, polite, honest, etc.)
  • Can any of you think of commercials or advertisements that used characters with unusual or unique personalities to sell products?
  • Did it help you to remember the product that was being advertised?

Inform the students that they will learn about one native Mississippian whose pottery shop became a tourist attraction in his hometown of Biloxi through the creation of his distinctive personality. The “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” as George E. Ohr was called, put on quite a show for coastal visitors. His personality made him a local celebrity, but his artwork eventually made him an artistic legend.


  1. Explain to the students how to construct a timeline.
  2. Have the students go online to read the Mississippi History Now article, “George E. Ohr, America’s First Art Potter.” As the students read, they should make a list of key events in the life of George Ohr.
  3. Have the students list the events and corresponding dates on their timelines. Students may work independently or with partners for this activity.
  4. After the students have completed their timelines, ask for student volunteers to determine the obstacles that George Ohr faced during his career. Students can also volunteer to share with the class the events of Ohr’s life that they feel were the most influential in the career of this potter.
  5. Allow the students to work with partners or in groups of three to create an original poem that commemorates the life of George Ohr. Have the students pretend that this poem will be read at a special event at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.

You may want to suggest several styles of poems to students as an example. An acrostic poem might be fun to write. George Ohr was intrigued by the fact that the first three letters of his first name were also his initials. He used this same naming practice with most of his children. Remind the students that to write an acrostic poem, they will write George E. Ohr’s name vertically. Each letter will be used as a prompt to write a statement about the life of George Ohr. George E. Ohr should also be at the beginning of the first line in the poem (an example is listed below). A rhyming poem would also represent George Ohr’s unique sense of humor and creative personality. The students can also be encouraged to try free verse.

Example of an acrostic poem:

G eorge E. Ohr left Biloxi as a very young man of fourteen

E ventually finding his dream on a pottery wheel down in New Orleans.

O nly the Tchoutacabouffa River could provide him his clay and to Biloxi he was destined to return.

R omance did blossom at the 1885 World’s Fair

G iving George opportunity to find love with a Gehring heir.

E veryone flocked to Biloxi in order to see the “Mad Potter of Biloxi” who had such an eccentric air.




Allow the students to share their poems with the class. You might also conduct a poetry contest in order to allow the students to choose the one poem that might be appropriate for special events at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. Allow the students to continue working in groups of three. Allow the groups to choose one of the following projects or assign each group the same project.

Instruct the students to create a museum display about the life of George E. Ohr. The display could focus on one aspect of his life. Tell the students to pretend that this display would be found in the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. Project boards would be excellent to complete this assignment.

Instruct the students to create a children’s pop-up book or story book about the life of George E. Ohr. Tell the students to pretend that this book would be sold at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. You will probably want to show the students examples of pop-up books as well as other story books. Instructions on how to make pop-up books can be found at the following websites:

Students could also be allowed to use PowerPoint or other software to create their books about the life of George E. Ohr.


Allow the students to share their displays or books with the class. The teacher can also ask students what they found most interesting about the life of George E. Ohr and why he deserves recognition in the world of art. Ask the students to speculate on why it took so long for George E. Ohr to be recognized as an artist with great talent.


  • Class participation
  • Timelines
  • Poems
  • Pop-up books or story books
  • Museum displays
  • PowerPoint or technology projects


  1. Take a field trip to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi. Not only can students view George Ohr’s artwork, but the museum also provides art activities for students.
  2. Create a business card that George Ohr may have used.
  3. Research the life of a current American potter and compare and contrast the lives of George Ohr and the potter.
  4. Let students create their own original artwork.
  5. Allow the students to access pictures of George E. Ohr’s artwork at the Ohr website. Let the students try their hand at creating their own pinch pots or original pottery designs.