Fairyland luster at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Editorial Staff

The current exhibition With a Little Help From Our Friends pays homage to the donors of  several recent gifts to the New Orleans Museum of Art. On view through October 18, the show includes more than fifty objects. Highlights include: glass from the collections of Jack M. Sawyer, and John W. Lolley; a collection of American pressed-glass presented by Florence Jastremski; multiple pieces of Lalique glass from Caroline Querbes Nelson, and Dr. Siddarth Bhansali; Paris porcelains from David Stone, and through the H. Speed Lamkin Fund; and Belleek porcelain from Dr. William B. Zeiler.

The museum’s holdings include over 30,000 works of art with particular strengths in glass, with over 12,000 examples it is ranked one of the finest in the United States; works by Fabergé; and ceramics, including American art pottery and French porcelain. Beginning in 1913 with a gift from Eugenia Uhlhorn Harrod of a copy of the Portland Vase, the museum has also built a major collection of works by the Wedgwood pottery including gifts and the 1994 bequest from New Orleanian Irving Gerson of 107 pieces dating from the 1760s through the 1940s. A collection of 20th-century Wedgwood jasper boxes, tea wares and vases—the bequest of the Frank Walker Wright Jr.—was added in 2002, and, most recently, a gift of fifteen pieces of Fairyland luster from Sydney and Walda Besthoff, which is represented in the exhibition, has further expanded the breadth of the collection.

Wedgwood’s Fairyland luster, created by Daisy Makeig-Jones (1881- 1945), was an antidote to the conservative designs the firm had come to be associated with in the early 20th century. Makeig-Jones—whose birthname was Susannah Margarett—was hired as an apprentice at Wedgwood in 1909 after training at the Torquay School of Art. In 1911 she was placed on staff, and three years later was appointed a designer, working adjacent to James Hodgkins, Wedgwood’s chief of design. She came to be known for her inventiveness and for her eccentric and headstrong personality.

Around this time Makeig-Jones began to create designs for luster wares—historically derived from the ancient Middle East and later from the Italian Renaissance—that exuberantly combined a jewel-tone color palette, lustrous glaze, and imaginative imagery of elves, fairies, imps, woodland scenery, dragons, birds, spiders, and other creatures. Fairyland luster was eagerly embraced by a young and wealthy American and British clientele in the years following World War I, and by 1920 had helped to re-establish Wedgwood as the leading producer of ornamental ceramics producer. The manufacture of Fairyland luster was both laborious and expensive, requiring the talents of draughtsmen, engravers, printers, stipplers, painters, lusterers, gilders, and burnishers. A minimum of five firings was needed, with the more elaborate pieces often requiring more. At the time, a single bowl from the line cost nearly double the price of an entire forty-piece Wedgwood bone porcelain tea service.

The popularity of Fairyland luster had begun to fade by the late 1920s, during which time Makeig-Jones found herself at odds with Wedgwood’s young and newly appointed managing director, Josiah Wedgwood V, who requested her retirement in 1931. Although Fairyland luster remained in production until 1941, fewer quantities were produced, and remained out of favor and underappreciated until decades later.

Today, after substantial scholarship has documented the history of Makeig-Jones and her extraordinary designs, Wedgwood’s Fairyland luster has achieved wide recognition in the world of decorative arts as one of the most innovative lines of 20th-century ceramics. For more information on these wares, see Wedgwood Fairyland Luster: The Work of Daisy Makeig-Jones (Una des Fontaines, 1975) or visit the very comprehensive website of the Wedgwood Museum. To learn more about With a Little Help From Our Friends please visit the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Do you collect Fairyland luster? Have you seen an example at your local museum? Leave us a comment below and tell us about it!

Image (left to right): “Imps on a Bridge and Tree House,” vase 2465, c. 1924;
“Ghostly Wood,”covered vase 2046: c. 1923; “Imps on a Bridge,” vase 3451, c. 1924-26. New Orleans Museum of Art, gift of Sydney and Walda Besthoff. Photo by Judy Cooper/NOMA.