Plates from Wedgwood’s “Butterfly Bloom” range

Wedgwood’s current design Butterfly Bloom illustrates the constant trade between artists and industry, the studio and the factory, that takes place in ceramics.

Butterfly Bloom celebrates and recapitulates Wedgwood’s 250-year history, taking elements of traditional transfer-printed designs and, in effect, quoting them on contemporary products by arranging fragments of them asymmetrically.  It’s a clever trick, remaining well within the range of what is acceptable to the customers of this venerable company.  As Wedgwood says, it is “Perfect for that indulgent little oasis of calm in a hectic schedule, or for sociable gatherings with friends.”

The design introduces into mainstream manufacture a device that has been used by the ceramic artist Paul Scott for over twenty years.  Scott uses traditional transfer-printed North Staffordshire pottery to make social and artistic comments.  Well-established designs, like Willow Pattern and Spode’s Italian, that had become redolent of vicars’ tea parties and everything nice, have been subverted by Scott, who reproduces them precisely but with small alterations – for example, by putting wind turbines in a cottage landscape, or showing the Spode Works with a “Closed” sign on the gate.

Paul Scott, “After Bypass”

Paul Scott, “Cocklepickers”

Transfer printing was first used in the mid-18th century as a way of putting engraved designs on to pottery.  When Scott’s book on Ceramics and Print came out in 1994, the technique was confined to industrial manufacture and few studio potters used it.  Since then, there has been an explosion in printing on ceramics by artists, probably the best-known of whom is Grayson Perry, who combines sprigging, sgraffito, underglaze printing and transfers on his complex decorated surfaces.

Now, the subversion of transfer printing has itself become such a cliché that it can be reversed into the industry to produce Wedgwood’s charming and inoffensive Butterfly Bloom.

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