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Wedgwood - The Story of the Master Potters
Wedgwood is the one famous Pottery that everyone has heard of,the founder of this most illustrious firm was Josiah Wedgwood who was born in Burslem ,Staffordshire in 1730, the youngest of the 13 children of Thomas and Mary Wedgwood who ran the Churchyard Pottery in Burslem.Josiah was apprenticed to his eldest brother when only 9 years of age after the death of his father Thomas.However, things did not go quite as planned and the young Josiah was refused a partnership into the family firm on finishing his apprenticeship.Josiah then joined the Cliffe Bank pottery of the Alders, and 2 years later he was offered a partnership by a great British potter called Thomas Whieldon of Fenton.
In a few years Josiah, on his own, founded the great Wedgwood Pottery.At first he rented the Ivy House Works in Burslem but, after a few years he became friendly with Thomas Bentley who had very good social and business contacts and it was from this time that Josiah started his climb on the ladder of fame.The upper British class took a liking to Josiah's Pottery and before long he was receiving orders from the most famous of people, including the Empress of Russia..This association with Catherine of Russia resulted in the most famous of his commisions, and, incidentally the largest.It was finished in 1774,and consisted of nearly 1,000 items of a Dinner service with over 1,200 hand painted views and scenes of Large Country Mansions,Castles and Abbeys of Britain.Catherine paid £2,700 GB Pounds for the service,that actually gave Josiah very little profit, but of course the benefits of this most prestigious of works was inestimable.When this fabulous Dinner Service was finished it went on display in the Wedgwood showrooms in London before leaving for Russia, it was heralded as one of the great London attractions, and droves of potential customers and admirers of this great Pottery travelled to London to see the display.
After 1764, Wedgwood developed a new Black Basalt ware from his earlier black Egyptian wares.The new Basalt was very finely grained and very smooth to the touch.It was used for Plaques,Cameos,Busts and fine sets of Vases, also for useful wares.Josiah was very proud of this Black Basalt and said with pride that "The Black is Sterling and will last forever!"
However, Wedgwood's most famous ware was his beloved Jasperware.An unglazed vitreous stoneware which could be stained in many colours, ranging from blue,green,lilac,yellow,deep wine red,and black with contrasting white borders in relief.Jasper was made into sets of fine vases showing classical portraits also cameos and plaques.Jasperware was the result of over 10,000 experiments, and his search for perfection was unceasing.His most famous item of Jasper was the replica of the Portland vase, which was hailed as a great copy of the original that dated from AD50.This was Josiah's jewel in the Crown.Unfortunately a tragedy happened in the British Museum in 1845 when a madman called William Lloyd smashed the glass case containing the original Portland Vase and then proceeded to smash the actual vase itself into 200 pieces.However, all was not lost as Wedgwood's copy was used to re build the original vase, and with infinite patience it was eventually repaired and put out again on exhibition in March 1846.So great was this achievment,that from 1878 a small printed replica of the Portland Vase has been used on Wedgwood's bone china products as the trademark ever since.Wedgwood made many further copies of the Portland vase but later copies were marked Wedgwood and do not include the medallion of the female head on the base.As such, it is the earlier copies of this vase that command huge auction room prices when offered for sale.
Wedgwood only wanted the very best products and it was with great expense that he trained his workforce to a very high individual standard, and then he went to great lengths to keep this workforce.He also introduced high hygiene standards in his workshops, and to avoid the results of "potters rot" he did not allow his workers to eat in the dipping room and insisted on pails of water with soap and towels and nailbrushes to be available at all times for the men to use.Also they had to wear smocks as protective clothing and make sure that the floors and other surfaces should be kept clean by washing and sponging , and never brushed when dry, as this would have created clouds of dust.
So great was Wedgwoods success that over the years the pottery seriously undermined the great Meissen factory in Germany..Wedgwood wares were sold Worldwide in the 18th century, and became from that time a household name synonymous with quality, good taste and elegance.
Josiah Wedgwood died in 1795, he did not have a charmed life as his health was sometimes poor and so inflamed was a troublesome Knee joint that he had his leg amputated above the knee without the use of modern anaesthetics! .These health problems may have contributed to his sometimes "bad" temper periods, when he railed at his workforce bringing down his stick with passion when things were not going the way he wanted them in the workshops.
To finalise this tribute to Wedgwood we repeat the words of one ceramics expert from more modern times, who has written thus "Wedgwood's influence was so powerful and his personality so dominating, that all other English potters worked on the principles that he in fact laid down."
.A truly remarkable story about a great man and his great pottery........The end.
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