Josiah Wedgwood & Sons

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Clare Leighton (1898-1989) earned early recognition as an innovative and original wood engraver in 1923, when her engravings were shown at the annual exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers. The same year, she moved to Bloomsbury, London, where she met the radical journalist Henry Brailsford (1873-1958), with whom she lived for many years. His Marxist politics likely encouraged Leighton's dedication to portraying working men and women in her engravings, but she also seems to have had an innate respect for physical labor and those who wrest their living from the natural world. Leighton even liked to engage in the occupations she depicted (she spent a day harvesting cranberries for the Wedgwood series, and lamented that she could not go to sea on a whaling ship). Engravings such as her 1931 Lumber Camp series and "Bread Line, New York" (1932) are stark examples of social realism, and reveal her profound connection with the physical existence of man.

By 1925, when she began visiting America to give lecture tours, Leighton was already an established and respected artist. She illustrated books by Thomas Hardy and Thoreau, and published popular books with her own text and images, such as Farmer's year (1933), a chronicle of life during the agricultural depression, Four hedges (1935) about her Chiltern house and garden, and Country matters (1937), a nostalgic celebration of English rural life. Leighton was also influential as a teacher, and wrote two pedagogical texts on the craft of wood engraving: Wood-engravings and woodcuts (1932) and Wood-engravings of the 1930s (1936).

In 1939 she left Henry Brailsford and moved permanently to the United States, where she became a naturalized citizen in 1945. Her first project in the US was the semi-autobiographical Sometime -- never (1939), an exploration of her memories and inner imaginative world. Southern harvest (1942) displays her fascination with rural life in the American South; in the 1943 English edition, she wrote, "The true character of a people is to be found in its workers, and especially in the workers upon the earth, for it is here that man is up against the eternal, and it is here that he demonstrates his values and his worth."

In 1951 and 1952 she worked intensively on Josiah Wedgwood's commission for a series of 12 plates portraying traditional New England industries. The work took her all over the Northeast, and upon its completion she decided to move to Massachusetts (she would later settle in Woodbury, Connecticut). Although she broke new ground in designing the Wedgwood plates, she finished the project feeling both triumphant and exhausted. In the unpublished notes towards an autobiography she made in old age, she recollected: "Once I had finished the Wedgwoods, I realised I needed to forget wood engraving. It is no wonder that after so many years, I found myself growing exhausted by it. I felt I was running the risk of repeating myself and ceasing to grow." She saw the Wedgwood plates as one of her most ambitious projects, perhaps even the culmination of her career. The last major work she wrote and illustrated was Where land meets sea : the tide line of Cape Cod (1954), which the New England Society of New York hailed as a great contribution to the culture of New England. Soon after, she stopped engraving and began designing stained glass windows, mosaics, and other projects that spared her the detail-intensive and physically demanding labor of engraving.

The Wedgwood Plates

Clare Leighton had lived nearly 8 years in North Carolina when she received a commission from Josiah Wedgwood & Sons to design a series of 12 plates depicting traditional New England industries. The two-year project (1951-1952) sent Leighton traversing large areas of New England, to which she became deeply attached. In a draft of her "Introduction" to the Wedgwood series, she explains that she saw the commission as an opening to a new place: "Here, now, was my chance to discover New England. For always, I have found, the one way to learn the life of a land is to work upon it whether it be with plow or pencil."

As Leighton began traveling around New England, she found that "in the clean light of the North, the actual shape of the earth has a strength that is rare in the South." She got to know the people, whom she said resembled Southerners, having "the same far off, keen look in their eyes that you find in all fishermen, everywhere, the same angular bonyness of all tillers of the soil." However, she also believed that "Something happens to a man's face and stance when he battles the cold. I must be able to show this, with engraving tools, on wood." She tirelessly tracked down subjects to draw, seeking out old grist mills and ice-cutting teams (already anachronisms) in remote areas of New England. She even spent a day harvesting cranberries, and was dedicated to gaining a first-hand perspective on her subjects as much as possible.

Leighton initially planned to organize the plates by state, with logging and lobsters from Maine, codfishing from Massachusetts, maple sugar and marble quarrying in Vermont, tobacco growing in Connecticut, etc., allotting two subjects to each of the six New England states. However, she soon found that so many industries demanded representation--many of which could not be isolated by state--that this scheme would not work. In determining which industries to present, she writes that "I had decided from the very beginning that I wanted to make this an epic of earth and water. I wanted the basic, cradle industries of New England, rather than recent mechanisation. This m[u]st be the harvests of land and sea."

As an artist accustomed to illustrating books, Leighton was forced to tackle the difficulty of designing a circular (rather than rectangular) engraving for the Wedgwood designs. She solved this problem by depicting the tools of each trade in the bottom foreground. She recalls the riveting power of the many tools she examined and handled while researching subjects: "I myself grew intoxicated with the beauty and meaning of tools and caught something of the magic that man feels for the instruments of his craft ... Greater than will to power and more enduring than economic strain and stress is the inevitable shape of plow deter[m]ined by necessity. These designs, in which I have tried to show the rhythm of labour, are no sentimental escape from reality."

From the guide to the Clare Leighton collection, 1949-1953, (Yale Center for British Art)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Transylvania Club (Sandersville, Ga.). Transylvania Club of Sandersville, Ga. Georgia bi-centennial memorial plates, 1932-1966. University of Georgia, University of Georgia, Main Library
creatorOf Flaxman, John, 1755-1826. Portrait medallion of Joseph Banks, ca. 1785 [realia] / John Flaxman. Libraries Australia
creatorOf Josiah Wedgwood & Sons. [Collection of 25 pieces of Wedgwood ephemera]. Cleveland Public Library, Main Library
creatorOf Vernon Kilns (Firm). University of Georgia Commemorative plates, 1995. University of Georgia, University of Georgia, Main Library
referencedIn Duke University. University Archives. Duke University Wedgwood Plates Reference Collection, 1937-1938. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Austen, Jane, 1775-1817. Autograph letter signed : Chawton, to Cassandra Austen, 1811 June 6. Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Clare Leighton collection, 1949-1953 Yale Center for British Art
creatorOf Josiah Wedgwood & Sons. [Philosopher reading] [realia]. Western Washington University
creatorOf Josiah Wedgwood & Sons. Institutional file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Austen, Jane, 1775-1817. person
correspondedWith Beamand, Arthur W. person
correspondedWith Belding, Alice person
correspondedWith Carpenter, Virginia E. person
correspondedWith Chambers, Helen person
correspondedWith Chambers, Robert person
correspondedWith Chavchavadze, Paul person
correspondedWith Clapp, Dorothy L. person
correspondedWith Coe, John A. person
associatedWith Colony Club (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
correspondedWith Danaher, Mary Byington person
associatedWith Duke University. University Archives. corporateBody
associatedWith Dunbar, Helen Flanders, 1902-1959 person
associatedWith Flaxman, John, 1755-1826. person
correspondedWith Fogg, Margaret L. person
correspondedWith Gamble, Irene person
correspondedWith Hartwell, Dickson person
correspondedWith Henderson, Priscilla A. B. person
correspondedWith Higham, Anne Stewart person
correspondedWith Hill, Frederick F., d. 1974 person
associatedWith Hitzberger, Ruth M. person
correspondedWith Johnson, Leighton F., 1890-1953? person
correspondedWith Johnson, Margaret L. person
associatedWith Kallen, Horace Meyer, 1882-1974 person
correspondedWith Kallen, Rachel person
correspondedWith Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989 person
associatedWith Lionni, Leo, 1910-1999 person
correspondedWith Loreth, Connie person
correspondedWith McBride, Malcolm R. person
correspondedWith Melcher, Frederic Gershom, 1879-1963 person
correspondedWith Melville, Carey E., 1878- person
correspondedWith Melville, Maud Seamen, 1880-1978 person
correspondedWith Middleton, Katharine person
correspondedWith Mitrany, David, 1888-1975 person
associatedWith Nina Georgievna, Princess of Russia, 1901-1974 person
correspondedWith Pattyson, Ralph, A., d. 1974 person
correspondedWith Pinnington, Jane, 1892-1970 person
correspondedWith Prettyman, Charles B., Jr. person
correspondedWith Rhine, J. B. (Joseph Banks), 1895-1980 person
correspondedWith Saltonstall, Nathaniel, 1903-1968 person
correspondedWith Sweaney, Hunter, 1893-1969 person
associatedWith Transylvania Club (Sandersville, Ga.) corporateBody
correspondedWith Warrot, Paul person
correspondedWith Williams, Marion N., 20th cent. person
correspondedWith Wolf, Ruth person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Tobacco farms--Pictorial works
Agriculture--Pictorial works
Cranberry industry--Pictorial works
Logging--Pictorial works
Marble industry and trade--Pictorial works
Ice industry--Pictorial works
Shipbuilding--Pictorial works
Whaling--Pictorial works
Grain--Milling--Pictorial works
Atlantic cod fishing--Pictorial works
Maple sugar industry--Pictorial works
Lobster industry--Pictorial works

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Ark ID: w61k421s

SNAC ID: 64188366