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Meet the Maker: Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795)

Meet the Maker: Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795)

Bailey Tichenor

Wedgwood is perhaps one of the best known names in antique English ceramics. The Wedgwood company, founded in 1759, revolutionized the pottery industry by perfecting the manufacturing, sale, and distribution of ceramics. The man behind the famous English workshop was Josiah Wedgwood. He came by the profession quite naturally, as he was born into a family of potters. However, a childhood bout of small pox left him unable to work the potter's wheel, so he turned to designing pottery instead.

Josiah Wedgwood by George Stubbs, 1795. Print.

Wedgwood worked with several partners before making a name for himself. One of his most notable collaborations was with Thomas Whieldon, whose unique stoneware with a tortoiseshell-like pattern can be immediately recognized as Whieldon ware by collectors.

Tortoiseshell design on Whieldon ware.
Detail of the sponged design on Whieldonware.

Under his partnership with Whieldon, Wedgwood experimented with various glaze recipes and firing techniques to improve the ceramics. He recorded his techniques in a private book. Wedgwood took that spirit of creativity, as well as his secret ‘Experiment Book,’ with him to form his own workshop in 1759 at the age of twenty-nine.

Invitation to an exhibition of Old Wedgwood Ware. Print. Victoria & Albert Museum, 15672:1.

Wedgwood & Byerley, York Street. St. James’s Square. For No. 2 of R. Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, 1809. Aquatint, 5½ x 9¼”. British Library.

Types of Wares

Wedgwood is known for his innovations in pottery. Below are wares that he is credited with inventing and/or perfecting.

Rosso Antico

Wedgwood used the tern Rosso Antico, literally “antique red,” to describe his redware.

Creamware

A cream/white-colored glazed earthenware, creamware is also called Queensware after Queen Charlotte commissioned Wedgwood to create a set.

Black Basalt

Black basalt wares were made from clay that had coal in it, but the richer black that we see in finished products comes from the addition of manganese.

Jasperware

High-fired stoneware with an unglazed, matte finish, jasperware is perhaps one of Wedgwood’s most recognizable wares. It came in a variety of colors, notably light blue or “Wedgwood Blue,” but other colors such as dark blue, lilac, sage green, black, and yellow were produced. Often, white sculptural decorations covered the surface in relief.

Caneware

This type of unglazed stoneware is buff, or yellowish-cream, in color. Many of Wedgwood’s caneware featured bamboo motifs.

Drabware

An olive-grey stoneware with clear glaze.

Interesting Facts about Josiah

He had many royal patrons, including Queen Charlotte of England and Russian empress Catherine II.

He was an abolitionist.

He was the grandfather of Charles Darwin.

References

Dawson, Aileen. Masterpieces of Wedgwood. London: British Museum Press, 1984.

Josiah Wedgwood (1730 – 1795), BBC.

Mankowitz, Wolf. Wedgwood. Leicester: Magna Books, 1992.

The Genius of Wedgwood. Hilary Young, ed. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1995.