Focus on Daisy Makeig-Jones

Focus on Daisy Makeig-Jones

Susannah Margaretta Makeig-Jones (l88l-l945) was an important designer for Wedgwood in the period around the First World War and is mainly recognised for her Fairyland Lustre work.

Known from childhood as ‘Daisy’, she was born on 31 December 1881 at Wath-upon-Dearne, near Rotherham, Yorkshire where her father had a medical practice. She was the eldest of seven children, three boys and four girls, one of whom died in infancy. The children were brought up with typical Victorian values of self-control and restraint but, in a foretaste of what was to come, Daisy - unlike her sisters - preferred the outdoor life to the ladylike pursuits expected of her.

Education for all the family began at home with a governess until Daisy went to a private boarding school near Rugby. She had always enjoyed painting and completed her education by studying for some years at the Torquay (now the Torbay) School of Art. Later she was able to spend a short period of time at a London School of Art.

The end of the 19th century saw the beginning of female emancipation but it was still unusual for a well-born woman to want to leave home and earn her own living. Daisy’s parents were anxious that her artistic abilities and training should be utilised. Happily, this was helped by a distant relative, the Reverend Archibald Sorby, vicar of Maer in Staffordshire and friend of Cecil Wedgwood. He suggested that Daisy might consider becoming a ceramic designer and offered to introduce her to the Wedgwood family. The idea appealed and she immediately wrote to Cecil Wedgwood who was the managing director at that time. In his reply Cecil warned her that in order to become a good ceramic designer she must learn all aspects of manufacturing and that working in a factory would probably not suit her. However, nothing could discourage Daisy from her ambition, and determination led to her engagement as a paintress in 1909.

Training and early designs

Daisy was to receive the best training under the art director John Goodwin, the decorating manager Godfrey Hammersley and the chief designer James Hodgkiss.  She was placed on the permanent staff in August l9ll and, by January 1914, she had become a fully fledged designer with her own studio. The fortunes of the Wedgwood company were well on the road to recovery by the time Daisy began to work at Etruria; the development of powder blue decorated bone china ornamental wares, together with the introduction of the first lustre pieces two years later, helped to transform the company’s economic situation.

Daisy’s initial ceramic designs, which were put into production from 1912, were a number of colourful nursery ware patterns. These included simply drawn patterns using toy soldiers, aeroplanes, various animals, toy rabbits on wheels, and nursery ware ranges sold under the names of ‘Noah’s Ark’, ‘Zoo and Cobble Bead’ (1916), ‘Yellowstone Zoo (April 1923), ‘Moa’ (May 1923), and ‘Coq du bois’ (July 1923) - all with a naive charm which would have appealed to the children they were intended for. She also designed models for a cruet set and sugar shaker en suite with ‘Moa’ (a flightless New Zealand native bird) in the form of bizarre birds and animals.

Once fully conversant with the ceramic industry, Daisy was employed in designing dragon motifs for the ranges of ‘ordinary lustre’ on bone china which were first recorded in October 1914 and continued in production until 1931. Butterflies, hummingbirds and fish designs quickly followed into production. By 1919 four ‘Celtic’ patterns had been added to the ranges and, two years later, various patterns with a Persian influence inspired by early Islamic art had been created by Daisy for both useful and ornamental wares.

As the modern Art Deco style began to dominate the fashion scene the demand for lustre grew in popularity, reflecting the energy of the 1920s. Daisy’s designs transformed Wedgwood’s contribution to the style of the era, especially with the introduction of Fairyland Lustre at the end of 1915. These lustre patterns were a bright and vibrant change in complete contrast to the dark and terrible period of the Great War.

Price and manufacture

The prices of the lustre wares differed considerably, depending on the time spent on the individual decoration and the amount of gold used on each piece. Ordinary lustre, dragons, butterflies and hummingbirds were all similarly priced but Fairyland Lustre was considerably the highest. The cost of these pieces reflected the process of manufacture where some pieces could pass through the kiln five or even six times before they were complete.

Part of the expense was the actual lustre which was specially prepared by the company chemist and was a dark brown liquid which could vary in consistency but was always applied with a large, flat soft-hair brush with sweeping strokes as it dried fairly quickly. The firing of the lustre was in a well ventilated low-temperature kiln because too high a heat would cause the lustre to lose its iridescence.

The final process was the application of the ‘best gold’ by initially printing the design in oil and then dusting gold powder onto the piece which adheres to the oil with the surplus removed before its final firing. The whole manufacturing process for these pieces was time consuming and labour intensive which was reflected in the final costs.

One contemporary remarked that, ‘Miss Jones and her Fairyland were a law on their own’.

Daisy’s fascination for fairies, folk law, legends and mythology from many lands was derived from a wide variety of books, including the illustrations of Gustave Doré, Edward Dulac, and HJ Ford’s pictures for both the works of Hans Christian Andersen and the 12 Coloured Fairy Books.

Many of these tales were explained in a small booklet written and illustrated by Daisy entitled ‘Fairyland Wedgwood Ware’ with the subtitle, ‘Some Glimpses of Fairyland depicted by M. Makeig-Jones’. Published in 1921, it was created partially as a sales catalogue for retailers to explain the stories behind her designs and with the hope that the information would interest customers. Some of the designs were given names by Daisy but many remained with only a number for identification.

The end of the 1920s saw a steep decline in the success of the pottery business due principally to the Wall Street Crash of 1929. A new generation of the Wedgwood family was joining the firm, and popular taste and fashion were changing rapidly away from the vibrant colours and ‘Jazz Age’ styles to more monochrome tones and stylish shapes.

Retirement

In April 1931 Daisy Makeig-Jones was asked to retire after nearly 20 years of designing for the company. She left Staffordshire and settled with her family in Conisbrough where she found a new talent in gardening. Daisy died from peritonitis on 21 July 1945, at the relatively young age of 63 years, leaving behind a range of designs which exemplified her love of fairy tales and magical stories.