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Home | Articles | Curator's Choice: Wedgwood Fairyland Lustreware Bowl

Fig. 1: Wedgwood Fairyland Lustreware, “Castle on a Road” on an Octagonal Bowl. Introduced in 1917. Collection of Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA; gift of Dr. and Mrs. Maurice Rosenbaum, by exchange.

The Staffordshire-based ceramics factory established in 1759 by Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795), now known by the name of its founder, became widely acclaimed soon thereafter for the high quality of its functional and ornamental wares as well as its commitment to technological innovation. In this vein, Wedgwood, with partner Thomas Bentley (1730–1780), first explored lustre glazes in the 1770s in an effort to simulate the appearance of precious metals in ceramics. The company continued to produce ceramic bodies with lustre glazes into the nineteenth century—their variegated, silver, and gold lustreware reaching a height of fashion in the 1810 to 1820 period. Wedgwood’s handcraft studio revived its production of lustreware in the early twentieth century, and by 1915 the wares were once again a commercial success.

Between 1915 and 1930, Daisy Makeig-Jones (1881–1945) designed for Wedgwood a popular lustreware based on imagery from illustrated childrens’ books of the 1890s through the 1910s, aptly called “Fairyland Lustre.” The heavily detailed, brightly hued ornamental ware—a far cry from the soberly colored, classically inspired jasperware for which Wedgwood is so well known—became hugely popular in the 1920s as people looked for fantasy and escape in the wake of the horrors of World War I.

To elaborate on her designs, in 1921, Makeig-Jones wrote Some Glimpses of Fairyland, in which she recorded her own versions of popular fairy tales and invented new ones. In one story, Makeig-Jones describes the adventures of two little boys who one day venture forth from home and down a well that leads them to the Land of the Fays. They are treated well by the Fays (fairies), who eventually return the boys to their home and give them apples, plums, and pears by which to remember them. The story relays that this is how apples, pears, and plums were first brought to Europe and notes that, to the little boys, the fruit had never tasted as good as in the Land of the Fays.

Makeig-Jones’s design “Castle on a Road,” introduced in 1917, depicts two disparate vistas on adjoining panels—one, a landscape of contemporary Europe, the other, the Land of the Fays (Fig. 1). The world of reality and the world of fantasy are juxtaposed in ideal harmony.

Usually off-view, this opulent bowl, one of the most serene designs produced for Wedgwood by Makeig-Jones, is featured in the exhibition Imps on a Bridge: Wedgwood Fairyland and Other Lustres, presented at the Long Beach Museum of Art through September 9, 2001.

Harold B. Nelson, Museum Director at the Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA, curated Imps on a Bridge: Wedgwood Fairyland and Other Lustres, the first museum exhibition on Wedgwood lustreware to be presented in the United States. All of the approximately seventy objects in the exhibition are from Southern California collections.

Curator’s Choice is a regular feature that highlights a museum object currently off-view, providing the rare opportunity for a behind-the-scenes curatorial tour.

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