Josiah Wedgwood

Josiah Wedgwood

[wej-wood]
Wedgwood, Josiah, 1730-95, English potter, descendant of a family of Staffordshire potters and perhaps the greatest of all potters. At the age of nine he went to work at the plant owned by his brother Thomas in Burslem, and in 1751, with a partner, he started in business. In 1753 he joined Thomas Whieldon of Fenton, then one of the foremost potters of Staffordshire, and in 1759 Wedgwood started his own business at the Ivy House Works, Burslem. He obtained a site near Stoke-on-Trent, where he built a village called Etruria for his workers and opened a new works in 1769. In that year he took into partnership Thomas Bentley, who remained a valuable ally until his death in 1780. At Etruria, Wedgwood specialized in ornamental products to supplement the utilitarian wares of Burslem. Wedgwood entered the field of pottery at a time when it was still a backward and minor industry and by his skill, taste, and organizing abilities transformed it into one of great importance and enormous aesthetic appeal. He combined experiments in his art and in the technique of mass production with an interest in improved roads, canals, schools, and living conditions for workers.

Wedgwood soon acquired a reputation for his cream-colored earthenware, known as queen's ware, and at the same time produced decorative objects, candlesticks, and vases of a black composition known as basalt or Egyptian stoneware. He also produced a mottled and veined ware in imitation of granite and a translucent, smooth, unglazed semiporcelain. This gave way to his best-known product, jasper ware, best known in a delicate blue with white, cameolike Greek figures embossed upon it (see Portland vase), which has been in continuous production since 1774. He invented and perfected this ware and in it gave expression to the interest of his day in the revival of classical art. He employed the best talent available for his finer pieces, many of which were designed by John Flaxman. Wedgwood's terra-cottas of various hues were made with one color in relief upon another. He produced exquisite wares for many royal and noble patrons, including a dinner service for Catherine the Great. His work is found in many museums and private collections; the Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge, Mass., has an outstanding collection. He also published several pamphlets, and his Address to the Young Inhabitants of the Pottery appeared in 1783. For his invention of a pyrometer for measuring temperatures, Wedgwood was made a fellow of the Royal Society (1783). The extensive potteries he established, which he built into a large, worldwide commercial empire, were perpetuated by his descendants.

See W. Mankowitz, Wedgwood (1953); A. Kelly, The Story of Wedgwood (1962); E. Meteyard, The Life of Josiah Wedgwood (1865, repr. 1970); B. Dolan, Wedgwood: The First Tycoon (2004).

(baptized July 12, 1730, Burslem, Staffordshire, Eng.—died Jan. 3, 1795, Etruria, Staffordshire) British pottery designer and manufacturer. His family had been potters since the 17th century. After an apprenticeship with his elder brother, he formed a partnership with another potter and finally went into business for himself. He took a scientific approach to pottery-making and was so successful that the makers of even Meissen and Sèvres porcelain found their trade affected. His many innovations include development of a green glaze still popular today, the perfection of creamware, and the invention of the pyrometer. His daughter Susannah was the mother of Charles Darwin. Seealso Wedgwood ware; Wood family.

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Josiah Wedgwood (July 12, 1730 - January 3, 1795, born Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent) was an English potter, credited with the industrialization of the manufacture of pottery. He was a member of the Darwin-Wedgwood family, most famously including his grandson, Charles Darwin.

Biography

Early life

Born the thirteenth and youngest child of Thomas Wedgwood and Mary Wedgwood (née Stringer; d. 1766), Josiah was raised within a family of English Dissenters. He survived a childhood bout of smallpox to serve as an apprentice potter under his eldest brother Thomas Wedgwood IV. Smallpox left Josiah with a permanently weakened knee, which made him unable to work the foot pedal of a potter's wheel. As a result, he concentrated from an early age on designing pottery rather than making it.

In his early twenties, Wedgwood began working with the most renowned English pottery-maker of his day, Thomas Whieldon. There he began experimenting with a wide variety of pottery techniques, an experimentation that coincided with the burgeoning early industrial city of Manchester, which was nearby. Inspired, Wedgwood leased the Ivy Works in his home town of Burslem and set to work. Over the course of the next decade, his experimentation (and a considerable injection of capital from his marriage to a richly endowed distant cousin, Sarah Wedgwood) transformed the sleepy artisan works into the first true pottery factory.

Marriage and children

Wedgwood married Sarah Wedgwood (a third cousin). Together, they had seven children:

Work

Wedgwood's work was of very high quality: when visiting his workshop, if he saw an offending vessel that failed to meet with his standards, he would smash it with his stick, exclaiming, "This will not do for Josiah Wedgwood!" He was also keenly interested in the scientific advances of his day and it was this interest that underpinned his adoption of its approach and methods to revolutionize the quality of his pottery. His unique glazes began to distinguish Josiah's wares from anything else on the market.

By 1763 he was receiving orders from the highest levels of the British nobility, including Queen Charlotte. Wedgwood convinced her to let him name the line of pottery she purchased "Queen's Ware", and trumpeted the royal association in his paperwork and stationery. In 1774 the Empress Catherine of Russia ordered the Green Frog Service from Wedgwood; it can still be seen in the Hermitage Museum. An even earlier commission from Catherine who was his wife was the Husk Service (1770), now on exhibit in Peterhof. As a burgeoning industrialist, Wedgwood was a major backer of the Trent and Mersey Canal dug between the River Trent and River Mersey, during which time he became friends with Erasmus Darwin. Later that decade, his burgeoning business caused him to move from the smaller Ivy Works to the newly-built Etruria Works, which would run for 180 years. The factory was so-named after the Etruria district of Italy, where black porcelain dating to Etruscan times was being excavated. Wedgwood found this porcelain inspiring, and his first major commercial success was its duplication with what he called "Black Basalt".

Not long after the new works opened, continuing trouble with his smallpox-afflicted knee made necessary the amputation of his right leg. In 1780, his long-time business partner Thomas Bentley died, and Wedgwood turned to Darwin for help in running the business. As a result of the close association that grew up between the Wedgwood and Darwin families, Josiah's eldest daughter would later marry Erasmus' son. One of the children of that marriage, Charles Darwin, would also marry a Wedgwood — Emma, Josiah's granddaughter. Essentially, this double-barreled inheritance of Josiah's money permitted Charles Darwin the life of leisure that allowed him the time to formulate his theory of evolution.

In the latter part of his life, Wedgwood's obsession was to duplicate the Portland Vase, a blue and white glass vase dating to the first century BC. For three years he worked on the project, eventually producing what he considered a satisfactory copy in 1789. After passing on his company to his sons, Wedgwood died at home, probably of cancer of the jaw, in 1795. He was buried three days later in the parish church of Stoke-on-Trent. Seven years later a marble memorial tablet commissioned by his sons was installed there.

He belonged to the fourth generation of a family of potters whose traditional occupation continued through another five generations. Wedgwood's company is still a famous name in pottery today (as part of Waterford Wedgwood; see Waterford Crystal), and "Wedgwood China" is the commonly used term for his Jasperware, the blue (or sometimes green) china with overlaid white decoration, still common throughout the world.

He was an active member of the Lunar Society and is remembered on the Moonstones in Birmingham. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1783 for the development of a pyrometer.

He was also a prominent slavery abolitionist. He mass produced cameos depicting the seal for the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and had them widely distributed, which thereby became a popular and celebrated image. The actual design of the cameo was probably done by either William Hackwood or Henry Webber who were modellers in his factory.

Locomotive

A Loco was named after Josiah Wedgwood and ran on the Churnet Valley Railway.

References

  • Wedgwood: The First Tycoon, Brian Dolan, Viking Adult, 416 pp. (October 7, 2004). ISBN 0-670-03346-4.

External links

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