A new exhibition at the DAR Museum showcases the beautiful artistry and marketing genius of Josiah Wedgwood which still thrives today, 250 years after he founded his famous ceramics company. "Wedgwood: 250 Years of Innovation and Artistry," which runs from October 3, 2009 – February 27, 2010, celebrates the 250th anniversary of Wedgwood and the remarkable story of discovery, vision, experimentation, industry and exquisite design.
Nearly 200 select items on display will illustrate the company’s unique history and manufacturing. All eras from 1759 to 2009 and the wide variety of clay bodies, designs and categories of items produced will be represented with objects from North American private, museum, and celebrity collectors such as Martha Stewart.
As part of the Wedgwood-250 Exhibition Committee, the DAR Museum collaborated with Wedgwood USA, Inc. and the Wedgwood Society of Washington, D.C. to curate one of the largest loan exhibitions in the Museum’s history. In addition to private lenders, the exhibition includes pieces from the DAR Museum collection as well as loaned items from the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Birmingham Museum of Art among others.
"The DAR is honored to be hosting this historic exhibition celebrating the 250 years of Wedgwood," says Linda Gist Calvin, DAR President General. "Our organization has a long history with Wedgwood, having commissioned a variety of pieces over the past century. The DAR Museum has also collected a number of notable Wedgwood objects and it is with great pride that we have been able to collaborate on this important exhibition."
The exhibition weaves together the amazing 250 year story of Wedgwood with an examination of innovative pieces through the years. Josiah Wedgwood was the son of a poor potter in a time when most potters sold their wares locally. By the late 18th century, however, Wedgwood had transformed localized trade into an international market finding his success as an outstanding entrepreneur, marketing genius and major contributor to Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution. Wedgwood’s success was rooted in his deep interest in science and constant experimentation which led him to develop significant manufacturing innovations. He also developed a creative marketing strategy using elegant showrooms and royal connections which was revolutionary in creating consumer demand.
Pieces showing the evolution and diversity of the signature designs of Wedgwood are accompanied by descriptions of how they were made or how they are historically significant. While Wedgwood pieces today are often thought of as fine china or decorative ornaments, the exhibition shows examples of the vast range of wares produced by the company such as figures, personal items, utilitarian wares, and commemorative pieces, as well as those that showcase specific artists’ unique styles.
Historically, Josiah Wedgwood played a great role because of the highly influential people with whom he associated and his contributions to industry and society in Great Britain and internationally. One of the most culturally significant pieces on display is a plate from 1770 designed in the “husk” pattern. This pattern was purchased by Catherine the Great of Russia, soon after Josiah Wedgwood had been designated “Potter to the Queen” of England. Wedgwood’s patterns, however, were not restricted to the royal household. In one of the earliest examples of “celebrity marketing,” middle-class colonial America was able to have the same china as the Empress, the King and the Queen.
Another interesting piece that speaks to the greater story of Josiah Wedgwood is an elegant sword from 1790. This beautiful weapon was crafted by Matthew Boulton and ornamented with jasper medallions made by Wedgwood. Boulton was an important metal crafter and manufacturer who partnered with James Watt in the production of the steam engine which made the Industrial Revolution possible. Boulton, Watt and Wedgwood were friends and members of the Lunar Society, an elite intellectual club that met monthly to discuss matters of common interest related to science and technology.
Yet another member of the Lunar Society was Benjamin Franklin. In addition to Wedgwood being an admirer and supporter of the American Revolution, he and Franklin shared another passion: abolition. Wedgwood was an active abolitionist and he created a cameo based on the emblem of the English “Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.” These medallions, one of which is on display, were produced mostly in black and white jasper and became fashionable and effective means of promoting the abolitionist cause. The medallions were distributed to abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic, including a large number sent to Benjamin Franklin.
In addition to pieces of historical importance, the exhibition also includes amazingly beautiful and interesting pieces. The Fairyland Lustre vase circa 1920, on loan from Whoopi Goldberg, has an elaborate decorative element of nymphs and magical scenery. The mortar and pestle on display lacks any decoration, but the beauty and efficacy of the shape and finish has proven so popular since the 18th century that generically this type of pestle is known as the “Wedgwood mortar and pestle” and can still be purchased today by makers all over the world.
“This exhibition brings alive the unique story of Wedgwood, from the formidable years of the 18th century to its current status as an iconic and premium international brand,” says Lord Wedgwood, direct descendent of Josiah Wedgwood and Wedgwood corporate ambassador.
The “Wedgwood: 250 Years of Innovation and Artistry” exhibition is the highlight of celebrations taking place for the 250th anniversary. The exhibition will open with a private ceremony hosted by Lord Wedgwood and will feature an afternoon tea and exhibition viewing for invited guests at DAR Headquarters. The planned highlight at the event will feature the British Ambassador presenting a specially commissioned Wedgwood Prestige “Gift Between Nations” statue to the United States. A lecture series presented by noted Wedgwood experts is also being planned to be held at the DAR and a full exhibition catalog will be available for purchase from the DAR Museum Shop.
For additional information on this exhibition and other Wedgwood products, visit www.wedgwoodusa.com. For more information on the Daughters of the American Revolution, visit www.dar.org. And for updates on the Wedgwood-250 Exhibition project, visit www.wedgwood250USA.org.