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Wedgwood: A Garden Factory of Innovation

Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-1795) was an innovator in the ceramics trade and a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution in England. Most closely associated with the unglazed form of stoneware called ‘Jasperware’ made in iconic Wedgwood blue, the Wedgwood factory was founded in 1759 in Staffordshire, England. Wedgwood was the leader in the industrialization of the manufacture of pottery from its beginnings in the 18th century through modern production in the 20th century. Through examination of the history of the company, it is clear that Wedgwood was much more than a producer of portrait medallions.

In the 18th century, under the direction of Josiah I, the Wedgwood factory quickly stood out among the multitude of potteries in Staffordshire. Creamware, or ‘Queen’s Ware’, was developed after a commission by Queen Charlotte, winning Wedgwood the title ‘Potter to Her Majesty’. Creamware was a glazed dry body stoneware that was ultra-light, adding to its desirability and functionality.  The creation of three new, colorful unglazed stonewares known as ‘Jasperware’, ‘Cane Ware’ and ‘Black Basalt’ led to further popularity of Wedgwood at this time. Production of this stoneware was aided by the newfound ability to read kiln temperature more accurately. The stoneware was decorated with applied neoclassical designs in contrasting colors. While transfer printing of decoration was not developed by Wedgwood, it was quickly adopted as a process for decoration as the speed and accuracy allowed the company to provide wares to a wider market. Josiah I was also credited with creating marketing concepts including direct mail, illustrated catalogs, incentives like ‘by one get one free’ and money back guarantees, branded packaging, self- service, and even the traveling salesman.

More than one hundred and fifty years later, in 1927, another innovator would join the ranks at Wedgwood. Norman Wilson (1902-1985) was from a family of potters with a small Staffordshire pottery of their own. Following disagreements with his  father, Norman was hand-picked to join the Wedgwood firm, a fortuitous move as the Wilson family business did not survive the economic downturn of the 1930s. Wilson was considered a master potter, designer and innovator during his life-long career at the factory where he would work with Josiah Wedgwood V (1899-1968). One of Wilson’s early and important projects for Wedgwood was the relocation of the company’s factory from Etruria to Barlaston. Etruria was originally chosen by Josiah I for its proximity to a canal for ease of transportation of wares. The Etruria factory was built as a ‘garden factory’ set in a bucolic landscape where workers were able to live nearby. By the beginning of the 20th century, coal mines and iron works had surrounded the factory and a new location was chosen in Barlaston. Allowing workers to continue to create beautiful things in a lovely setting, Barlaston became the new ‘garden factory’. The advent of WWII made the move difficult, creating gaps in construction, staffing and resources.  Wilson worked for Wedgwood during this difficult time and also managed to serve as a colonel in the Royal Artillery. By 1951, the new factory was finally in full production and the Etruria factory closed. As part of this transition, Wilson pioneered the switch to electric kilns at Wedgwood which provided a safer and more regulated firing process for the workers. Never the one to rest, he experimented with a wide range of clay bodies and glazes over sleek designs, developing pieces with a decidedly modern look. In his role as a designer with a discerning eye, Wilson used the quality standards of Josiah I as his guide. Despite his passion for innovation, his respect for the past was palpable. The original 18th century lathe was still in use when he retired from the factory in 1960.

We will be offering works by Wedgwood in our upcoming Porcelain sale, date coming soon!

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