Overbeck Pottery, produced between 1911 and 1955, is recognized as an important part
of our national art history. The Overbeck Museum located in the basement of the
Cambridge City Public Library preserves the creative art of the six Overbeck sisters who
lived and worked in Cambridge City, Indiana.
A brief history of the Overbeck Family:
Undoubtedly the name Overbeck has brought more world-wide attention to Cambridge City than any other name during its existence. So it behooves us to give honor and recognition to the Overbeck sisters in the pages of history. The Overbeck family migrated from Virginia to find a new home in eastern Indiana. The father and mother were educated, cultured people; their family consisted of six daughters and one son. Four of the daughters were intimately connected with the pottery, but it is the Misses Elizabeth and Mary who were actively engaged in the work. Miss Margaret, who was an art teacher in DePauw University is accredited with starting the making of pottery in 1911.
Miss Elizabeth, the potter, studied at New York State School of Clay Working and Ceramics under Prof. Charles F. Binns. Miss Mary, the designer, studied at Columbia University. Their work was all done in their studio workshop and home--the complete process from preparing the clay to the final firing of the pottery. Quality was their aim, not quantity; in fact, only a few hundred pieces were turned out each year.
Miss Harriet was a musician and not connected with pottery. Miss Hannah was an invalid and designer.
The pottery was all hand made on the potter's wheel or hand built (the same method the Indian's used). 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. One of the sisters quoted: "So far our work has been experimental, but it is at least as original as possible. Whatever its merits or demerits, it is a thoroughly American product."
These sisters may truly be called designers, creators and decorators in whose work, utility, sincerity, and beauty unite and give to the world rare gifts.
The Cambridge City Public Library and the Overbeck Museum were featured in a recent PBS episode of Journey Indiana that originally aired on March 21st, 2019. The episode featured interviews with Leah Huddleston and Jerry and Phyllis Matthias regarding the Overbeck sisters and their art. The full episode can also be viewed at PBS.org. The section about the Overbeck sisters begins at the 11 minute mark.