Skip to content

Art and History


Plates from Wedgwood's "New England Industries" series. In 1950, when Claire Leighton executed the designs, many of the traditional occupations she depicted were in decline or being transformed by new technology.


One of SPNEA's newest acquisitions is a set of twelve Wedgwood plates with scenes of New England industries designed by Claire Leighton (1899-1989) in 1950. Leighton was born and trained in England and moved to Connecticut in 1939. Her focus on labor subjects and her bold style are associated with Social Realism, an art movement of the early twentieth century. Best known for her wood engravings, Leighton illustrated a number of literary classics as well as her own books. Her designs for these plates, transfer-printed on Wedgwood's Queen's ware, depict codfishing, cranberrying, farming, grist milling, ice cutting, lobstering, logging, marble quarrying, shipbuilding, sugaring, tobacco growing, and whaling. Captions on the reverse of each plate, probably written by Leighton herself, celebrate the New England landscape and people: "The constant battle against wind and cold has engendered in the New Englander those same fine characteristics of face and figure to be found in fishermen everywhere." New Englanders are noted for their tenderness-"caring for the frail young plants, guarding the growing leaf," and for fortitude-"the sturdy New Englander exulted in the cold." The themes romanticize simpler times before the intrusion of modern technology. Most importantly, the plates demonstrate the power of art over memory and how New England industries have helped shape our regional and national identity.

-Melinda Talbot
Assistant Curator

Art and History