Q&A: Alison Wedgwood
- Wedgwood Museum & World of Wedgwood
- 19 September 2014
Alison Wedgwood is the daughter-in-law of Alan Wedgwood, Josiah I’s great-great-great-great grandson. From Wedgwood obsessives in Bangalore to a painting that captured a moment in time, she tells us what the Collection means to her.
What does the Wedgwood Collection mean to you and your family?
The Wedgwood Collection represents 250 years of the history of the family. It shows what the Wedgwoods have achieved, so it's really something of great pride for all family members. It isn't just a collection of ceramics or paintings – we can read letters between Josiah Wedgwood I and Thomas Clarkson, or between Emma Wedgwood and Charles Darwin. It's fascinating to get an insight into the lives of our ancestors.
What is your favourite piece in the collection and why?
I do like George Stubbs’s Wedgwood Family Portrait. It shows the ‘first’ family in all their glory, still unaware of the dynasty that they would represent. I particularly like the poised image of Susannah Wedgwood, Josiah's favourite and eldest daughter, who would give birth to Charles Darwin – often called one of the most influential figures in all history. All from a moment in time captured in a Staffordshire garden.
How did you feel when you first heard that the collection could be sold off?
We didn't believe it. The Collection had been separated off into a separate museum trust in 1961 – how could five employees of a museum be liable for the pension debt of 5,000 workers at a bankrupt company? We didn't think it was possible. But the answer that kept coming back from lawyers was that because they were in the same pension fund and the museum trust was ‘solvent’, it was therefore liable.
We went into a period of shock, and then anger. Now that has translated into a more positive fighting emotion of ‘OK, what can we do about it?’ What has happened has happened, we've tried to fight it in the courts, and now there's only one thing left – we've got to buy it to save it.
How has the local community responded to the Art Fund's appeal?
The community has responded brilliantly – it has been quite emotional seeing the response. Our thanks must go to the local media: BBC Radio Stoke and Midlands Today, as well as The Sentinel newspaper. Most people know someone who worked at Wedgwood or another pottery firm, and they recognise the global importance of this collection.
For local people the Collection is a poignant connection to their own past. The archives contain information on many people’s relatives: there are records and photos of every Wedgwood employee in 1892, including thousands of people’s great-grandparents. People come to search for details of their own ancestors, and they can't imagine those records ending up in some American museum.
What's the most unexpected place that you've discovered a passion for Wedgwood pottery?
Like anyone from the Potteries, when I go into a restaurant anywhere in the world I always turn over my plate to see if the pottery was made in Stoke. I was doing the plate turning at a restaurant in Bangalore, and it was Wedgwood – the Cornucopia design. The waiter saw me doing it and we got chatting. Later the owner came out, followed by the owner’s mother. She was absolutely obsessed with Wedgwood! Photographs were taken, I couldn't pay for my meal, and I wasn't able to leave until they'd given me lots of extra beer and hideous sweet pudding (that I didn't really want)!
Why is it so important to save the Collection for the nation?
Because it is of global importance, telling a narrative of the best of British industry, design and fashion tastes. The collection is powerful because the 80,000 objects all relate to each other. To sell it off bit by bit and scatter it around the world would be a travesty: as one art commentator said, it would make us the laughing stock of the world. Once you've sold off your nation’s history, you can't buy it back – it would be lost for ever.
Donate to help save the Wedgwood Collection from being broken up and sold off. Every donation, large or small, takes us a step closer to saving this irreplaceable collection.
Free with National Art Pass (standard entry £7.50)