"The Potter's House" - ROM2008_10009_1


"The Potter's House"

Maker: Designed and modelled by Harry Barnard (English, 1862–1933), produced by Wedgwood (English, established 1759) for the Beeshy's China Shop (Canada, 1874-1995)
Medium:Black basalt relief in 43 pieces
Geography: Made in Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England for use in Ridgeway, Ontario
Date: 1927
Object number: 2007.86.1
Credit Line: Gift of Waterford Wedgwood Canada Inc. Certified by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. Attestée par la Commission canadienne d'examen des exportations de biens culturels en vertu de la Loi sur l'exportation et l'importation de biens culturels.
Not on view
DescriptionThe Potter’s House relief is the largest example of black basalt ever produced. The shop of its origin, Beeshy’s China Shop in Ridgeway, Ontario, operates not far from the relief ’s present home in Toronto. The Beeshy family opened their retail store in 1874, stocking a wide range of English ceramics that attracted customers throughout Canada and also the United States, with Ontario conveniently sharing borders with New York State. Such a selection of English ceramics had been available in Canada because of Canada’s trade connections to Britain, but it was not as easy to come by in the United States.

In 1927, the Beeshy's decided to remodel their shop and sought the advice of Kennard Wedgwood, the first president of Wedgwood, USA. He suggested that they rebuild the façade in the Tudor half-timber frame and stucco style, having apparently been inspired by an existing Old English china shop, possibly one in or around Exeter, England. Wedgwood also suggested the shop exterior’s unique feature: the large relief panel in black basalt that was sculpted by Harry Barnard and produced in the Wedgwood factory in England.

The panel shows an eighteenth-century English potter in his workshop. The visitor to the shop is welcomed by the lines of poetry at the top of the panel, a quote from the eleventh-twelfth century Persian poet Omar Khayyam: “Within the potter’s house…surrounded by the shapes of clay.” The poetry of Omar Khayyam was popular at the time, having come available in English only in the late nineteenth century when it inspired a wide range of literature and art. The quotation’s subject of a craftsman working in his workshop was appropriate to the Arts and Crafts movement popular in Canada at the time and particularly evident at the Roycroft workshops of handicraft artisans in neighbouring New York State. Wedgwood craftsmanship would be widely celebrated at the approaching bicentennial in 1930 of Josiah Wedgwood’s birth. Mounted above the shop’s front door, the panel complemented the new façade’s Old English style that was also typical of the Arts and Crafts movement.

During production, the panel was cut into forty-two sections to reduce warping while being fired in the kiln; one section cracked cleanly in half during firing. The pieces were then shipped to Canada. The full relief weighs approximately 363 kilograms (800 pounds). While Barnard was on a North American lecture tour in 1928, he visited Beeshy’s to see the relief in position, and he was very pleased with the final effect. Barnard’s account of its production is recorded in Robin Reilly’s history of Wedgwood.
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