Life of Josiah Wedgwood
lmost synonymous with the name Wedgwood has become his famous 'blue
and white' ware or 'Jasper Ware'. Jasper Ware was made from a clay
body invented and tested by Wedgwood himself, unlike his previous
clay bodies which were largely improvements of recipes already being
used in English potteries. It took Wedgwood several years to come
up with the well-known result, which was first introduced in 1774.
Part of Wedgwood's success, particularly when one thinks of the
'Jasper Ware', lies in the fact that he was quite secretive about
tests and ingredients of this and other clays he experimented with.
Today we know that barium sulphate was the important new ingredient
in 'Jasper Ware' making it different to other clay bodies. Wedgwood
dared not have the substance delivered directly to his 'Etruria'
factory, but rather had it sent to London, where it was ground to
a powder in order to disguise it and only then sent to Staffordshire.
He also made sure that his employees didn't know too much about
the processes they were involved in by giving them specialized tasks
and discouraging contact between different departments.
The The Jasper Ware body itself was a pure white, but could be
colored in numerous ways. Usually it was colored a light to medium
blue, with pure white bas-relief ornaments added. These would be
made in separate molds and carefully attached with slip at the leather-hard
stage. The piece could then be fired to vitrification point, without
the need for a glaze (due to the so-called self-glazing effect of
the clay). The designs Wedgwood first used were similar to those
seen on the Black Basalt. At later stages, particularly after the
death of his partner Thomas Bently, the classical designs became
less rigid and new artists began to incorporate themes taken from
popular novels, which were a novelty on the rise at the time (late
1770's & 1780's).
For some time Wedgwood had been trying to gain the acceptance
of architects in utilizing his products instead of imitations of
classical works in stone and plaster. He began to produce large
plaques in the 'Jasper Ware', with classical motifs such as 'The
Apotheosis of Homer', with which he tried to gain entry into the
realm of architecture and interior design, but famous architects
and builders of the time, e.g.. Capability Brown or James Wyatt
complained that the ware bore too little resemblance to natural
stone. Ultimately Wedgwood didn't succeed in this endeavor, natural
or artificial stone remaining the more popular building material.
Despite this, there was a long list of items which were made in
the 'Jasper Ware', including cameos, seals, medallions, candlesticks,
tea-ware and even busts.
After the death of his partner Bentley in 1780, Wedgwood rushed
to release a new range of Jasper Ware, to counter rumors that he
would not be able to manage the firm single-handedly. This new range
of products was shown in 1782 and proved his critics to be wrong.
In 1783, perhaps at the height of his career, Wedgwood was awarded
membership in the illustrious Royal Society, an association founded
in the 17th century England by Charles II, which promoted research
in the sciences. This honor he gained for his invention of the pyrometer,
a still widely used device for measuring temperatures in pottery
Today, authenticating original Wedgwood ware is done with the
Signature Marks, which Wedgwood used from as
early as 1759.
Wedgwood continued to produce ceramic wares and to explore new
techniques until his death in 1795. His work and art still has many
admirers and followers today, e.g. the Wedgwood
Society of Boston.
Previous Page >
Wedgwood the Innovator > 2