Stoneware & Porcelain: The Art of High-Fired Pottery

By Daniel Rhodes | Go to book overview

Chapter2
Stoneware and Porcelain Today

1. Contemporary interest in high-fired pottery

Much as we may admire the great pottery of the past, it is clear that the conditions which brought it into being have disappeared or have been completely altered, and that whatever pottery may be in the future, it can never again be the same as it was in the past. By the end of the 19th century most of the old handcraft tradition in pottery, at least in Europe and America, had died out. The small producing pottery shop, manned by a few well-trained craftsmen who did all the work of throwing, glazing, and firing, has given way to the larger industrial unit which, by making use of molds, power machinery, and the division of labor was able to turn out pottery that was cheap, uniform, and adapted to distribution in a mass market. However, remnants of the older craft methods survived in various places. In England, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, some small pottery shops which used throwing as a production method survived until after the First World War, and in the United States a few small country potteries persisted in the southern highlands region until about 1930.

In pottery making, as in other kinds of manufacture, the initial impact of the industrial revolution had detrimental as well as beneficial results. On the good side, industrialization held the promise of well-made, attractive, practical pottery cheap enough to be used by everyone. This possibility was realized to a certain extent even during Wedgwood's day. In many ways, Wedgwood was an enlightened industrialist. He was one of the very first to realize the possibilities of steam power, and one of Watt's first engines was used for decades in his pottery. Wedgwood also realized the need for improved transportation for British industry, and was active in the movement to build canals for the transportation of coal and raw materials. He was very inventive in adapting or changing the old handcraft methods of the Staffordshire potteries, to enable increased production. Much of the early Wedgwood pottery was pressed in piece molds and luted together, but soon casting and jiggering were used, and the hand processes of throwing and modeling were practically eliminated. Many pottery processes, such as glazing, finishing, decorating, and kiln setting, are difficult to mechanize; in fact, they have been brought within reach of machine production only within the last few decades. But the use of molds and the transformation of the potteries into large establishments using machinery and considerable division of labor meant the end of the craft potter.

Industrialization had a profound effect not only on the way pattery was made but on the design of pottery. The old handmade pots, of Staffordshire for example, had an individual charm, a feeling of the rightness of the form for the processes of making, and a certain irregularity which gave to each piece a particular quality all its own. All of this

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