Posted 2nd September 2019
Jonathan Chiswell Jones
Inspired by De Morgan's lusterware
Over the 30 or so years of his ceramic practice, William De Morgan worked tirelessly to perfect the art of lustreware. This ancient technique, which first appears in 9th-century Egypt, had been lost in Europe by the time De Morgan started his experiments to reinvent it. He would have seen examples in the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) and the British Museum and was intrigued by the beautiful iridescent sheen on the surface of the ceramics.
De Morgan had begun his career as a craftsman in the 1860s, working on stained glass with William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. He had noticed that when fired incorrectly, the silver nitrate used to create a yellow stain would reduce down and leave an iridescence on the glass. This combined with his knowledge of ancient lustreware led him to experiment with glazing techniques, processes and even the construction of his own kilns to perfect the art.
Reduced pigment lustre is technically difficult to produce: the kiln temperatures and atmosphere are critical. The process (very much simplified) involves a third firing. The first firing hardens the basic clay pot or tile; the second firing adds the glazes and decoration. Before the lustre firing, the areas to receive the metal coating are brushed over with a metallic oxide mixed with carbon (enabling the brush strokes to be seen) and gum arabic for a better flow from the brushes. At the critical moment in the temperature of the kiln, wood shavings or brushwood are introduced at the bottom. Because of the heat, the wood has to catch fire but can only do so if there is oxygen present. The metallic oxide is reduced as hot oxygen is released leaving the fine metallic deposit that the design requires.
De Morgan was so admired for his work and his creations that he gave a lecture to the Egyptian Government on his techniques in 1893.
His legacy lives on today: Jonathan Chiswell Jones is a ceramic artist who practices in lustreware and is inspired by De Morgan. Jonathan uses a centuries-old Middle Eastern technique to make his lustreware, mixing clay and water with silver or copper to paint the glazed pot. When fired in a kiln starved of oxygen, the metal combines with the glaze in a minutely thin layer, which reflects light.
Jonathan's beautiful pottery is located in East Sussex and he welcome visitors. His ceramic pieces can be purchased at the Shop or on his website.
Banner image: Jonathan Chiswell Jones, Pelican Plate