Josiah Wedgwood, the great potter and social reformer, made a vital contribution to the development of pottery manufacture in the 18th century. He was responsible for the production of a dinner service for Catherine the Great in 1774. He chose a design of 18th-century houses, gardens and landscape for the service. He founded the Wedgwood Company, which became synonymous with high-quality ceramic ware. Born on July 12, 1730, in Burslem, Staffordshire, Wedgwood was the youngest of 12 children in a family of potters.
Wedgwood was affected by a childhood bout of smallpox that left him with a weakened leg, causing him to turn to pottery as a profession due to its less physically demanding nature. Despite his physical limitations, Wedgwood's determination and entrepreneurial spirit were evident from a young age.
He started as an apprentice potter under his brother Thomas Wedgwood, where he honed his skills and developed a keen interest in experimenting with different pottery techniques and materials. He became particularly fascinated by the art of creating cream-colored earthenware, also known as "Queen's Ware," which would become one of his signature creations.
Wedgwood's innovative approach to pottery-making led him to experiment with various clays, glazes, and firing techniques, striving for excellence in both craftsmanship and design. His meticulous attention to detail and commitment to quality propelled his products to prominence among the nobility and upper classes.
A key turning point in Wedgwood's career was his development of the innovative and durable "Jasperware" in the 1770s. This unglazed stoneware, typically in blue or green hues, was adorned with classical motifs in relief, showcasing intricate craftsmanship and artistic sophistication. Jasperware became highly sought after and contributed significantly to Wedgwood's commercial success.
Wedgwood was not only a skilled craftsman but also a shrewd businessman. He understood the importance of branding and marketing, utilizing various strategies to promote his products. He established showrooms in London and leveraged partnerships with influential figures to expand his customer base. Wedgwood's commitment to quality, combined with his astute business acumen, cemented the reputation of Wedgwood pottery as a symbol of luxury and elegance.
Beyond his contributions to the pottery industry, Wedgwood was also a prominent abolitionist and supporter of social reform. He was actively involved in the movement to abolish the slave trade and used his pottery designs to promote anti-slavery sentiments, producing items decorated with motifs such as the "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?" emblem.
Josiah Wedgwood passed away on January 3, 1795, leaving behind a legacy of innovation, craftsmanship, and social consciousness. The Wedgwood Company continued to thrive after his death and remains a renowned name in the world of ceramics, preserving Wedgwood's vision and commitment to excellence.
- "Josiah Wedgwood: The Man and His Work" by E. Meteyard
- "Wedgwood: A Biography" by Barbara Emerson
- "Wedgwood Ceramics" by Robin Reilly