Josiah in progress, © Gwen Heeney

Josiah in progress
© Gwen Heeney

Story of the roundel

Considerable thought was given to the design of the exterior of the Wedgwood Museum. The trust embarked on the ambitious project of having its logo recreated in engineering brick.

We were fortunate to be able to engage Gwen Heeney, one of the foremost sculptors working in brick clay, to undertake this special commission. The combination of the brick suppliers, Ibstock, and Gwen formed a unique alliance of manufacturer and artist; echoing the relationship of Flaxman and Wedgwood, George Stubbs and Wedgwood, Eduardo Paolozzi and Wedgwood and many others.

Gwen writes about the process of creating this very-special portrait medallion...

I was extremely honoured as an artist obsessed by brick and ceramics as an innovative and exciting medium of expression to be commissioned as the first woman  to create a portrait of Josiah Wedgwood for the exterior of the new Wedgwood Museum. As an artist and educator at the Ceramics department of the University of Wolverhampton the chance to work with the Wedgwood Museum Trust was invaluable.

I had always been fascinated by the history of Wedgwood and influenced by his innovative and experimental passion for ceramics, so for me this was an exciting opportunity to research the man, his business, his politics and his family. As soon as I received word that I had the commission I started to obsessively read and research his whole life history and the development of his business. For most of the summer of 2007 Wedgwood took over my life, I became entrenched in everything that was Wedgwood, even down to how he treated his wife what he ate for his breakfast.... I started to eat bacon even though I do not eat red meat!

This ability to become obsessed by the person I am portraying is vital for me to portray the character and what I thought was the essence of the man - the subtleties of how he interacted with his wife and children, his friends and business partner Bentley.

On reflection I feel that I have portrayed a very soft and feminine side to Josiah, which I do not think has been picked up by other sculptors over the years. However one painting, which really did have an impact on me, was the painting by George Stubbs.

The roundel was developed using unfired architectural bricks which where formed over an easel I had made on a curve. This was necessary as the roundel was to fit into a curved wall on the exterior of the museum. I always carve straight onto the wet clay but initially I will draw straight onto the clay freehand until I feel I have the essence of the personality, then I will start to carve, going back to draw and draw again so I never loose the essence of the carving.

When the carving was finished I dismantled it and took it back to the brick factory to fire, then to the site to construct it with Lee Blower, award-winning bricklayer extraordinaire. The blue-black engineering brick was chosen by the architect to echo the black basalt clay invented by Wedgwood. The brick chosen was the same brick used to run through the new museum's semi-spherical façade emulating the iron bands surrounded bottle kilns once so common on the north-Staffordshire skyline.