4.09.2010

At Home with Wedgwood

I have never met a person who has not been smitten by Wedgwood. Whether or not one collects the prized dinnerware, glassware, serving dishes and pottery is of little importance. It is the allure of the quality of the pieces that strikes the nerve of desire and admiration whenever one is presented with an example. With refined lines and majestic patterns, Wedgwood pieces are timeless, elevating the style of even the everyday dinner table to admirable heights.

The story of Wedgwood is a long one - too long for me to really get into here. It is easily researched, however. Some of the basic points of interest include its British lineage; Founded in London in 1774 by Josiah Wedgwood, a young potter who had been working in the Soho district of the capital city since the 1750s, the brand was an almost immediate success with England's upper classes. English royalty coveted the handmade and hand-painted pieces just as much as royalty from across the European continent, including the royals of Russia and France. That the name has survived over two centuries speaks to the enduring quality and beauty of the craftsmanship.

Below are some beautiful examples of Wedgwood from one of my favourite books called "At Home With Wedgwood." (Even our Martha has a line of Wedgwood dinnerware and glassware, available at Macy's, which is discussed below.) Enjoy these handpicked examples of some of my favourites.


My favourite type of Wedgwood is black Jasperware. I have a very small collection of very small pieces, including a few I bought at an antique warehouse in Scotland several years ago. They are not particularly expensive, but I adore them. Jasperware's hard, unglazed appearance took its name from its resemblance to the semi-precious stone, jasper, both in texture and color. This was obtained by adding carbonate and sulphate of barium to a semi-porcelain clay and then using a metal oxide for the desired color. Blue is the most familiar, but there are six others that are prized by collectors: pale green, grey, pink, lilac, yellow, and black. Against this colored background, a raised white decoration produced a cameo effect, as seen in the tea-cup and saucer example above.
This grey Jasperware is equally lovely. I adore the shape of the fruit bowl.
An array of Creamware plates and small tureens shows the versatility of this popular creamy colour, one of Wedgwood's most successful. With the invention of transfer printing (using an engraved plate to create a design) in the mid-eighteenth century, pieces could be decorated with some degree of standardization and speed. Extremely delicate borders with elaborate designs still had to be hand-painted.

Stephen Drucker, who was the editor of Martha Stewart Living between May 1997 and April 2001, is a collector of Wedgwood's black basalt portrait busts. Shown above is a basalt wine ewer, an exquisite example of Wedgwood's excellent craftsmanship, illustrating the neoclassical ideal of refined ornament. On Stephen's wall (shown behind the bust) is a collection of 500 reproduction plaster casts that he amassed online. Perfect framing against black linen cloth makes them come alive. Wedgwood collector James Huniford mixes pieces to achieve a modern table setting. A handmade Swedish bowl (not Wedgwood) sits atop two examples from his collection; on the bottom is vintage drabware from the 1950s in its characteristic khaki tone; sitting atop that one is a more modern example in a charming cauliflower pattern.A weekend breakfast for houseguests is an occasion to break out this set of Summery Sky Wedgwood. Its unadorned frames were made in post-war England, when the nation was just emerging from self-imposed rationing and economic restraints. The clarity of the shiny blue glaze reflects the new optimism of the period. This Craneware example is from Christine Maly's personal collection. The formula for making such a dish involves a bisque made from coloured marl (clay) and is one of the most difficult to create. Josiah Wedgwood and his son (Josiah II) experimented for nearly twenty years to perfect it at the end of the Eighteenth Century. These plates, shown above, embossed with leaves in the characteristic straw colour, are late Victorian. Many drabware motifs, such as bamboo or woven reeds, are derived from nature. Martha Stewart first began designing for Wedgwood in the late 1990s. Martha Stewart Wedgwood was sold via her catalog and e-commerce website, Martha by Mail. Examples of Drabware, Whiteware and Creamware were among her most popular offerings. In 2005, Martha and Wedgwood greatly expanded their relationship to include a growing array of designs and styles (including glassware) with distribution through Macy's Department Stores. The example above is a white cereal bowl with silver ribbon trim. Martha's most popular Wedgwood collection is called Flourish. It is bone china with a charming but not overly-precious filigree design in platinum. Against the robin-egg blue, the pattern creates a whimsical elegance.
Martha's second most popular pattern is called Garland in Moss. Also bone china, this collection features a classical and formal design with trim in gold.
There are two volumes that any collector of Wedgwood must have. The first is called "Wedgwood - The New Illustrated Dictionary." A large, hardcover book, it is the 'bible' for all Wedgwood collectors, filled with information and pictoral examples. Its last printing was in 2007 and it is sadly out of print, but it can be found at online auction sites, such as eBay. The second, called "At Home With Wedgwood," is a smaller volume but includes the more modern designers of Wedgwood patterns, including Vera Wang, Martha Stewart and Barbara Barry, as well as the more historical and collectible collections of the past. It is still currently available.

1 comment:

perfectingpru said...

I do like Wedgwood. If I am in Harrods I usually stop in that department to have a look. I am lucky to have two of the duck egg blue Flourish cups and saucers which were a gift from when Martha was due to come to London and was unable to. I treasure these, and they only come out for very special occasions!