Spinning Mud into Gold: Daisy Makeig-Jones

Daisy Makeig-Jones, whose work is on view at NMWA through August 16 in Casting a Spell, created Fairyland Lusterware for the Wedgwood pottery company in the early 20th century.

These ceramics feature elaborate motifs adorning decorative vases, bowls, and other works, demonstrating her fascination with fantastical imagery and folk tales from around the world. Goblins, imps, fairies, and insects are combined with detailed landscapes and abstract patterns.

Trumpet vase, ca. 1916–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding, 9 1/2 x 4 3/4 in.

Trumpet vase (left) and detail (right), ca. 1916–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding, 9 1/2 x 4 3/4 in.

Makeig-Jones adapted designs from contemporary illustrated fairy-tale books such as the “color” fairy books by Andrew Lang, as well as Art Nouveau patterns.

This influence can be seen in works such as a trumpet vase decorated with the pattern “Butterfly Women,” displaying a young woman with butterfly wings perched on a branch against a deep background. The vase’s neck features a pattern called “Flight of the Birds,” while the interior depicts swirling “Floating Fairies.”

Beyond her bold work, Makeig-Jones had a distinctive history with Wedgwood. Her designs bolstered sales for the company in the years following World War I. She was savvy about choosing motifs that sold well to fashionable customers of the period.

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Octagon bowl, ca. 1923–26; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding, 8 1/2 x 3 3/4 in.

She also took influence from Asian aesthetics and pottery shapes that were popular at the time. Asian-inspired adornments appear in a heavily gilded coral-and-bronze octagonal bowl. Although it was the simplest color scheme in Fairyland Lusterware, the combination of coral and bronze produced a lush effect.

Not Losing their Luster—Ceramics by Daisy Makeig-Jones

NMWA exhibition Casting a Spell: Ceramics by Daisy Makeig-Jones features work that the artist (1881–1945) created for the Wedgwood pottery company. She is best known for Fairyland Lusterware, a Wedgwood line incorporating fairies, imps, and other fantastical creatures into the intricate decoration of ceramic wares. Lusterwares are made with metallic glazes, producing an iridescent effect on the finished works.

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Punch bowl, ca. 1916–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Black Fairyland; Pattern: Poplar Trees; Base pattern: Cobble Bead; Interior color scheme: Daylight Fairyland; Pattern: Woodland Bridge (Woodland Elves V)

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Punch bowl, ca. 1916–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Black Fairyland; Pattern: Poplar Trees; Base pattern: Cobble Bead; Interior color scheme: Daylight Fairyland; Pattern: Woodland Bridge (Woodland Elves V)

Fairyland Lusterware production was divided into eight color schemes, with four corresponding to types of natural light: day, night, sunset, and moonlight. To achieve an especially dramatic effect, she occasionally paired two color schemes within one vessel.

Punch bowl interior detail with “MJ” intitials

Punch bowl interior detail with “MJ” intitials

A punch bowl on view displays the “Poplar Trees” design in the Black Fairyland palette on its exterior and the “Woodland Bridge” motif in the soft Daylight palette on the interior.

Although Wedgwood policy prohibited the signing of works, Makeig-Jones added her initials—a small “MJ”—into this variation of Woodland Bridge. The overlapping letters appear five times in this bowl, to the left of the base of the clustered trees.

The initials likely were engraved into the copperplates that Wedgwood artisans used to transfer Makeig-Jones’s designs to the ceramic objects.

The Magic of Daisy Makeig-Jones

The upcoming exhibition Casting a Spell: Ceramics by Daisy Makeig-Jones brings the magic of the 20th-century ceramic designer to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, May 1–August 16. One of the best-known ceramic designers of her time, Makeig-Jones (1881–1945) was born in Yorkshire, England, and quickly rose from an apprentice to a lead designer within the esteemed Wedgwood pottery company. Combining her experimentation in ceramic production and design with her love of fairy tales, Makeig-Jones developed a dreamy decorative collection aptly called “Fairyland Lusterware.”

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Empire bowl, ca. 1916–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Black Fairyland; Pattern: Leapfrogging Elves

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Empire bowl, ca. 1916–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Black Fairyland; Pattern: Leapfrogging Elves; Private collection, photo Lee Stalsworth

Casting a Spell features 38 pieces of Fairyland Lusterware whose fantastical influences created a new form of aesthetic escapism during World War I. First released in 1915, Makeig-Jones’s ornamental ceramics were unlike the streamlined pieces being produced by Wedgwood and other firms at the time. Makeig-Jones synthesized the contemporary Arts and Crafts aesthetic with the Art Nouveau style raging in Paris to create innovative designs with iridescent glazes. Her popular creations also boosted Wedgwood sales at a time when it was desperately needed.

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Vase, ca. 1929–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Sunset Fairyland; Pattern: Imps on a Bridge

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Vase, ca. 1929–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Sunset Fairyland; Pattern: Imps on a Bridge; Private collection, photo Lee Stalsworth

The jewel tones and fairy tale motifs—often inspired by contemporary fairy tale illustrations and featuring fairies, imps, goblins, and other fantastical creatures—of Makeig-Jones’s Fairyland Lusterware create a distinct whimsical atmosphere for each bowl, vase, cup, and box. The popularity of Asian aesthetics and ceramic shapes was also a source of inspiration for Makeig-Jones’s designs, which sometimes incorporated palaces and landscapes that evoke the Middle East. According to New York City antiques dealer Nicholas Dawes, the collection’s wild motifs provided the fanciful escapism that “many Europeans were looking for . . . to escape from the horrors of war.”

Makeig-Jones’s designs transport the viewer to a world of fantasy and dreams. The most frequently produced motif within the collection is “Imps on a Bridge and Treehouse.” This design, which features imps crossing a bridge while a bird swoops overhead, is replicated on multiple vases on view in Casting a Spell, in distinct color schemes. Makeig-Jones developed eight color schemes for Fairyland Lusterware production, four of which corresponded to types of natural light. One vase showing this motif is painted with a striking “Sunset Fairyland” theme of orange and scarlet, while the cooler “Moonlight Fairyland” coloration of another creates a more dreamlike atmosphere.

Casting a Spell examines Makeig-Jones’s role within the decorative arts both as a pioneering designer and as a modern woman and artist. Be sure to check out her ceramics this summer at NMWA.

—Margie Fuchs is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.