Sadie Irvine was the most well-known of all the Newcomb designers. Scholars have called her "the cornerstone" of the Newcomb pottery program. More so than any other artist, Irvine maintained a lifelong connection with the College, through most of the early years of acclaim and later when she and others tried new designs, colors, and motifs.
She came from a small, uptown Catholic family. Irvine's mother died when she was quite young; her stepmother encouraged her talents and oversaw her enrollment at Newcomb in 1902. She graduated in 1906, and was listed as an Art Craftsman from 1908-1929. From 1929 until her retirement in 1952, she taught pottery design, embroidery, watercolor, drawing and design, bookplates, and blockprints.
During much of Irvine's career, Ellsworth Woodward acted as her mentor and guide. She also worked closely and made strong friendships with Henrietta Bailey, Kenneth Smith, and John Canaday. One of her favorite pasttimes was returning in the summer to North Carolina or to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to visit Woodward in his retirement home.
Art formed the central focus of all of Irvine's life. In the portrait above at right (ca. 1912), she posed herself in a way to evoke the fluidity and the formality of art nouveau. In her free time, she often painted among a small circle of friends and family, many of whom exchanged art pieces. In her collection, for example, are handmade Christmas cards from Bailey and tiles she made for John Canaday and Kenneth Smith. Click on the bookplate at left to see an example of Irvine's printmaking. Former students often sent her examples of their work. Even after her retirement from Newcomb, she continued to inspire students through teaching at The Academy of the Sacred Heart.
Independent and immensely capable, Irvine could draw directly onto the clay shape, perfectly measuring with her eye the various widths. She encouraged her students to think out their designs, and gave them freedom to select modeling in low relief, incisions, painting, or a combination of these methods on the clay shape.
She designed many vases with the oak, moss, and moon motif (click the vase on the right for an enlarged view). "I have surely lived to regret it," she said many years later. "Our beautiful moss draped oak trees appealed to the buying public but nothing is less suited to the tall graceful vases -- no way to convey the true character of the tree. And oh, how boring it was to use the same motif over and over though each one was a fresh drawing..."Click here to see more examples of Sadie Irvine's work