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The Life of Josiah Wedgwood

A 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 kilns today.

Today, authenticating original Wedgwood ware is done with the help of 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.

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