All on fire: the genius of Josiah Wedgwood


Let’s start with what was deemed negative about Josiah Wedgwood’s impact on the history of ceramics. Twentieth-century studio potter Michael Cardew admitted Wedgwood was an “industrial genius,” who blended science, technology and entrepreneurship. But Cardew made an important technical critique of the eighteenth-century potter. Wedgwood first fired its goods at high temperatures. Once enameled and decorated, they were reheated in the “shiny” oven at low temperature. Although this system avoids breakage, for Cardew it meant “killing the body before enameling” and “giving the dishes that cold appearance beneath its lavish ornamentation”. Cardew, more an artist than an industrialist, contrasts Wedgwood’s technique with that used for the manufacture of Chinese stoneware in the 12th century, which he appreciates for the complete unity of the glaze and the clay body.

Art critic Roger Fry agreed. Although Wedgwood was a great technician, Fry argued, his approach to ceramics “probably …

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