Waterford Wedgwood resurrects the triumph that launched the career of the world’s most famous potter.

The scene

In the 18th century, the designers of the day were quite literally digging up inspiration. The rage for everything neoclassical was ignited by archeological finds at Pompeii and Herculaneum, creating an insatiable demand for decorative objects depicting ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian figures and motifs. In an attempt to mimic basalt — a stone used in Egyptian statuary — a number of potters in Staffordshire, England, had begun making crude black earthenware vases and tableware known as Egyptian Black.

Enter the inventor
Having established his own factory in Staffordshire in 1759, Josiah Wedgwood was a pioneer among potters — a tireless inventor intent on elevating Egyptian Black to a contemporary classic. In 1768, he succeeded with his fine-grain, unglazed black stoneware, which he christened black basalt. Made from Staffordshire clay and stained with cobalt and manganese oxides, the exceptionally smooth, porcelain-like finish and rich hue of black basalt launched Wedgwood onto the world stage.

To mark Wedgwood’s 250th anniversary, Waterford Wedgwood has released a collection of black basalt.

“They’re simple and elegant, and mix and match well with other pieces,” says Martha McKee, vice-president of media and communications for Waterford Wedgwood Canada and a confessed black basalt junkie.

Select pieces from Martha’s own collection are being shown in the “Wedgwood: Artistry and Innovation” exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (rom.on.ca) on display until July 5, 2009.

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