Wedgwood celebrates the ornate alongside the practical

“I want to announce upfront: this isn’t just a show of grandma’s good china.” David Roche Foundation curator Timothy Roberts need not worry: any visitor to this major exhibition of ceramics by English pottery manufacturer Wedgwood will be in no doubt about the formidable combination of art, science and innovation that goes into creating these elegant pieces, which range from practical wares such as crockery, to ornamental works of art including vases and sculptures.

Staffordshire-born Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) established his eponymous pottery company in 1759. Because of their quality, durability and affordability, Wedgwood products became popular across the world. Among the brand’s many pioneering contributions to pottery is Jasperware, with its iconic shade of pale blue—and several Jasperware pieces feature in the exhibition.

Wedgwood (Britain established 1759), Sir Douglas Cochrane, 12th Earl of Dundonald (Britain 1852–1935), designer, S.Y.P. (Simple Yet Perfect) teapot 1912, creamware, transfer printed, glazed. Private collection, Adelaide.

Wedgwood also has a specific connection with Australia, resulting in some special inclusions in this show. “Wedgwood’s history with Australia dates back to 1789, when Sir Joseph Banks [a prominent naturalist] asked Josiah Wedgwood to test clay sent from Sydney Cove,” says Roberts. “Wedgwood thought the clay was an excellent material for pottery, and produced a small number of medallions. Only 14 examples are known today, and three are displayed in this exhibition.”

While rare, valuable and ornate pieces make up many of the highlights in the exhibition (including the famous Portland Vase, 1790), it is “grandma’s good china”, or ceramics that serve a functional domestic purpose, that are likely to send a flicker through visitors’ memories.

“Like many Australians, I remember growing up with ceramics by Wedgwood—I remember dishes and vases owned by my grandparents, and a dinner set that we used. I felt it was a perfect fit for a house museum, where we can consider how objects are used and valued within a domestic environment.”

Wedgwood: Master Potter to the Universe
David Roche Foundation
On now—27 January

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith