Josiah Wedgwood and Anti-Slavery: How the Radical Porter became an Radical-HistoryExtra

2021-11-12 07:51:06 By : Mr. JOHN LIU

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Josiah Wedgwood is known for his iconic and innovative ceramics. But, as Tristram Hunt explained, the designer also has a radical tendency in his pottery.

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On September 26, 1792, Earl Macartney set sail from Portsmouth on the HMS Lion, accompanied by East Indian Hindostan. After staying in the windy weather near Torbay, they bypassed Brittany, then sailed south to Madeira, bypassed the Cape of Good Hope, and then headed east to the Chinese port city of Tianjin (Tianjin). Among the passengers were nearly 100 Georgian and Britain’s best talents-natural philosophers, instrument manufacturers and draftsmen-and just as importantly, about 600 boxes of carefully selected handicrafts and objects showcase the advanced ideas and industries of Britain strength.

Macartney's mission is to persuade the Chinese to open up their huge market to goods imported from the UK-"to inspire Beijing's taste for many British crafts that have never been seen there." Therefore, he placed a dazzling array of textiles and trade products in front of the "Heavenly Court". Most notably, he brought porcelain to China in the form of six Wedgwood vases. In the official register of goods purchased for the embassy in China, the "Wedgwood Jasperware" valued at £169.17.0 may be the most outrageous proof of Britain's unwavering belief in its design and manufacturing capabilities.

This is an inspiring choice. The achievements of Josiah Wedgwood, the father of British pottery, have global significance. In the last decades of the 18th century, he reversed the trend of Chinese porcelain imports and made Britain the center of ceramics. In the words of his epitaph, Wedgwood transformed "a rude and trivial manufacturing into an elegant art and an important branch of national commerce."

This influence is felt all over the world. "It's well-made; its sturdiness; its enamel is delicate and impervious to acid; it is beautiful, convenient, diverse, and affordable. It has created such a universal business that it is the furthest from Paris to St. Petersburg, from Amsterdam to Sweden. Locally, every hotel supplies English pottery,” wrote French travel writer Barthélémy Faujas de Saint Fond after visiting England in 1784.

With pottery comes politics. Wedgwood is an activist who not only changed the ceramic industry, but also played an active role in promoting world democracy and progressive change. He embedded all the great themes of the 18th century in his pottery: enlightenment, freedom and national identity. In my opinion, his radical patriotism and technical ingenuity should be recognized.

Given the limitations of its growth experience, Wedgwood's global influence is even more surprising. He was born in Burslem, the "mother city" of Stoke-on-Trent in 1730, and has been engaged in pottery work in northern Staffordshire for generations. By the mid-1700s, the proximity of clay and coal had helped transform the narrow central valley into a moderately prosperous ceramic cluster of clay pots and bottle kilns.

However, Wedgwood's genius accelerated pottery (known in the area) as a melting pot of the industrial revolution and made his name synonymous with design excellence. The 19th-century prime minister WE Gladstone said: "Wedgwood is the greatest man ever, in any era, in any country...committed to the important work of combining art and industry." He combined technology and design. The combination of retail precision and manufacturing efficiency changed the production of pottery and created a mass consumer society.

Part of the brilliance stems from adversity. Smallpox swept Burslem in the 1740s, and the Wedgwood family was seriously infected with this potentially fatal disease. In Josiah's case, his right knee was brunt of the infection: permanent weakness, requiring crutches or canes, this disability prevented him from operating the pedals on the pottery wheel, so he could never be a thrower. On the contrary, design, innovation and commerce are all aspects of the pottery trade that attracted his attention. Nearly a quarter of a century later, on May 31, 1768-Wedgwood named it "Holy Amputation Day"-his leg was completely removed by a saw just below his right knee, without any anaesthetic. His pottery workers soon renamed him "owd wood leg".

Wedgwood, as the junior partner of the potter Thomas Whieldon, his extraordinary use of glazes firstly reflects his integration of art and industry. Incredible Rococo designs—pineapple-style teapots; broccoli-colored plates—begin to appear in Wedgwood’s experiments.

But the key breakthrough came in cream products in the mid-1960s. Based on the work of Enoch Booth, Wedgwood designed a clean, practical and elegant alternative to Chinese porcelain that is both strong and cheaper to produce. A contemporary wrote: "It forms a durable pottery for the table, covered with rich and bright glaze, and has the advantages of easy production and expedition." The smooth, fine-textured main body also Allows for easy application of decorations-through application transfer or painting with enamel-which means that pottery can quickly follow fashion or include personal commissions for table service.

With rising real incomes and a volatile consumer market, the challenge for Wedgwood and his business partner, the educated Liverpool businessman Thomas Bentley, is how to get the discerning public to notice his cream products. Wedgwood's marketing talents played a role here. "Fashion is far better than advantages in many aspects," he once reflected on this way. "It is obvious from a thousand examples that if you have a favorite child, you only want the public to caress and pay attention to Need to choose the right sponsor [sic]."

Brilliantly, he swept their biggest sponsor in Queen Charlotte. Queen Charlotte’s sponsorship of his tableware service turned the cream ware into the "Queen's ware" and promoted Wedgwood to the "Her Majesty's" Master Potter". He was so focused on his high society promoters that he even named one of his flower pots "Devonshire" after the duchess. "I assure you that a name will have a wonderful effect," he told Bentley on purpose.

In fact, there is almost no technology in modern sales techniques—from product placement to using influencers—that Wedgwood and Bentley did not create. The West End showroom in Wedgwood, like many showrooms today, is not so much a store as a commercial gallery. He created a space to "show various tables and desert services completely set within the range of two order to do what is needed with the ladies in the neatest, most elegant and best way." .

At the same time, he created one of the first modern factories in Etruscan, Stoke-on-Trent (named before the classical civilization), ensuring the efficient delivery of decorative pottery and tableware, as well as unprecedented continuity, High-quality production.

After Queensware appeared Black Basalt, pearl products, and most importantly Jasper-the most original and most beautiful of all ceramic materials created by Wedgwood. Even today, the pale blue Jasper body with white neoclassical relief immediately marks Wedgwood, a source of imitating and inspiration from designers and artists over the centuries.

The invention of Jasper in the mid-1970s was the result of years of experiments conducted by Wedgwood on clay, kiln, cobalt, and iron oxide in his basement laboratory. In addition to his marketing and design talents, Wedgwood was also a scientist, and his clay experiments and kiln temperature calculations earned him a scholarship from the Royal Society.

Therefore, he is obviously very suitable for the radical circle of 18th-century provincial intellectuals, natural philosophers, and industrialists, called the Lunar Society, which holds a monthly meeting at Soho House in Matthew Bolton, Birmingham, to discuss "the first signs of discovery." , The current observations". , And the collision of ideas.” The latest developments in mineralogy, astronomy, and medicine were all interrogated by Joseph Priestley and James Watt, Bolton and Wedgwood. This is the origin of the British Enlightenment—— It happened not in Oxford or Cambridge, but among the makers and doers, nonconformists and entrepreneurs in the central region.

The Moon Club never discusses party politics, but its members deeply sympathize with dissent, liberalism, and internationalism. In the words of Richard Edgeworth, they oppose the forces of "conservatism and greed." They hope that scientific clarification logic can not only reveal the secrets of nature, but also dispel the old corruption of church and king conservatism—the traditional 18th century Tory party’s belief in the privileged authority of the Church of England (resulting in discrimination) against dissidents) And support the monarchy rather than the power of parliament.

Wedgwood’s politics stems from radical patriotism: a deep love for his country, and the promise of Britain—freedom under the law, Protestantism, and progress—are being undermined by ministerial greed and fear of unemployment. Most importantly, Wedgwood is a Democrat. He supported the renegade Congressman John Wilkes' campaign for parliamentary reform and expansion of suffrage, and produced a series of teapots, using "Wilkes and Freedom" as the slogan of the reformed government.

Wedgwood also expressed sympathy to the American colonists like Wilkes, and then they began to fight for independence as fellow patriots seeking to protect their Magna Carta rights. To support their cause, he secretly designed an intaglio depicting a curly rattlesnake with a raised tail and an open jaw, embossed with the legend "Don't step on me"-this was originally conceived by Benjamin Franklin The theme of anti-British resistance and was widely adopted in the Continental Army's rebels.

The United States is followed by France. When the Bastille was attacked in 1789, Wedgwood was also excited about the prospect of fundamental change there. "I know you will join me in rejoicing for the glorious revolution in France," he immediately wrote to his good friend Erasmus Darwin. "Politicians told me that as a manufacturer, if France had freedom, I would be ruined, but I was willing to seize the opportunity in this regard." Soon, Wedgwood stopped making Marie Antoinette ( Queen Marie Antoinette's jasper medal began to shape a new image of "France that embraces freedom".

Wedgwood's most enduring contribution to 18th century radicalism was his campaign against the transatlantic slave trade. There is a disturbing tension here: For decades, the success of Wedgwood & Bentley's business has been intertwined with the wealth of the Atlantic slave economy. Not only is the growing wealth of the Georgian consumer market driven by the profits of slavery, but the sugar bowls and tea ceremonies provided by Wedgwood are directly related to this exploitation.

Nevertheless, by the 1780s, Wedgwood was convinced of the inherent evil of slavery, "As far as I know, this inhumane trafficking has brought accumulated suffering to millions of our fellow citizens." Elected onto the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, he used his profound gifts of design and marketing to create a medallion that became the defining symbol of anti-slavery activism. In the gilded metal, an African slave with half bent knees is depicted, raising his shackled arms. There is a challenge engraved on the edge of the small medal: "Am I not a man and a brother?"

It was produced and distributed by Wedgwood at his own expense and was called the Liberation Medal or Badge. As Thomas Clarkson pointed out in his "History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade" (1808): "Among the ladies, a few women wear bracelets, while others wear bracelets in a decorative way. Used as pins in the hair. In the end, the taste of wearing them became common; therefore, the fashion that usually limits oneself to worthless things appeared once in the glorious position of promoting the cause of justice, humanity, and freedom."

By visually showing the degree of public support for the anti-slavery movement, linking the cause of abolition of slavery with major public figures, and reminding civil society of the suffering of enslaved Africans, the medal is in the movement that led to the slavery movement Played an important role in the abolition of the slave trade to the British colonies in 1807.

This summer, the V&A Wedgwood Collection in Stoke-on-Trent started a project to encourage sixth-graders in Stoke-on-Trent to design their own medals as a way to reflect on today’s anti-racism challenges . For these young people, Wedgwood’s radicalism is as much an inspiration as the elegance of ceramics.

Since Macartney's first voyage to China in the 1790s, the beauty of Wedgwood's pottery has been a source of deep national pride in British art and design. His radical patriotism and progressive internationalism may now have a chance to become a similar source of admiration.

Tristram Hunt is the curator of the V&A Museum. His most recent book is Radical Potter: Josiah Wedgwood and the Transformation of Britain (Alan Lane, 2021). You can listen to him discussing Wedgwood on the HistoryExtra podcast

This article was first published in the October 2021 issue of BBC History Magazine

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