The collection comprises original artwork and manuscript material by Clare Leighton for a series of 12 Queen's ware plates representing New England industries, produced by Josiah Wedgwood & Sons in 1952. Each plate reproduces a circular, wood-engraved design depicting one of 12 traditional industries: Whaling, Cranberrying, Grist Milling, Ice Cutting, Codfishing, Lobstering, Logging, Marble Quarrying, Shipbuilding, Sugaring, Tobacco Growing, and Farming. The collection includes all 12 of the Wedgwood plates, plus extensive preparatory material, including Leighton's preliminary studies, compositional studies, wood-engraved states, and final prints (signed and unsigned). The collection also includes photographs of Clare Leighton working on the woodblocks. Written material in the collection includes numerous drafts of texts by Leighton describing her process in designing the plates, and over 40 letters from Leighton's acquaintances responding to her announcement on June 6, 1952 of priority sales for the plates (Leighton's original letter is also present).
Among the preliminary studies are finely executed graphite drawings, including a full-page drawings of a lobster, a whale vertebra, and sketches of tools, etc. Most of the engraved states have white ink added in Leighton's hand, with which she determined where more white was needed in the image before she carved alterations into the woodblock itself. The sequence of printed states available for each design offers an excellent step-by-step view of Leighton's process in engraving the blocks. There are also a handful of photographs of Leighton at work, engraving in her studio.
The collection includes Wedgwood's original brochure for the plates, with a brief overview of the project and short descriptions of each industry. Also present are Leighton's numerous drafts for the brochure texts, as well as additional writings by Leighton (many with her penciled corrections) describing her design process. There are detailed, multi-page narratives of her design process for Cranberrying, Grist Milling, Ice Cutting and Whaling. These offer windows into Leighton's engagement with the project, the people she met, her tireless search for subjects, and the curiosity and humility with which she approached the people and places involved in each industry. The texts for the four industries mentioned above are the most extensive and were likely composed first; drafts on the other eight industries are each about a page long, suggesting that she may have realized during the process that Wedgwood was only interested in printing very brief notes on each plate. It appears that Leighton's original longer texts were never published.
Correspondence includes a letter from Frederick Hill (Director of The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia) enclosing photos of whaling for her design. The rest of the correspondence concerns the advance sale of the Wedgwood plates. There is a copy of the typed letter (from 6 June 1952) that Leighton sent to about 75 of her friends and acquaintances announcing the sale of the plates. In response to Leighton's letter, there are over 40 typed and hand-written replies from prominent intellectual and artistic figures such as David Mitrany, Rachel Kallen (wife of philosopher Horace Kallen), Katharine Middleton (wife of R. Hunter Middleton), Frederic Melcher, and Nathaniel Saltonstall.