In the late 1940’s Wedgwood commissioned Leighton to produce a series of 12 wood engravings. to represent the traditional industries for which New England was famous, including Whaling (Massachusetts, especially Nantucket), Marble Quarrying (a Vermont specialty), Lobstering (associated with Maine), Tobacco Growing (Connecticut), Maple Sugaring (Vermont and New Hampshire), Cranberrying (Massachusetts), as well as a variety of traditional activities found in all New England States, and many other northern or coastal States, including Ship Building, Logging, Farming, Cod Fishing, Grist Milling and Ice Cutting. The original twelve wood engravings themselves were produced in a limited edition of 50 sets, individually numbered and signed by the artist. Wedgwood then adapted these engravings and transfer printed them onto 10.5 ins dinner plates.
The work took her all over the Northeast, and upon its completion she decided to move to Massachusetts (she would later settle in Woodbury, Connecticut). Although she broke new ground in designing the Wedgwood plates, she finished the project feeling both triumphant and exhausted. In the unpublished notes towards an autobiography she made in old age, she recollected: “Once I had finished the Wedgwoods, I realised I needed to forget wood engraving. It is no wonder that after so many years, I found myself growing exhausted by it. I felt I was running the risk of repeating myself and ceasing to grow.” She saw the Wedgwood plates as one of her most ambitious projects, perhaps even the culmination of her career.
A collection of original artwork and manuscript material by Leighton for the series is in the collection of The Yale Centre for British Art, including Leighton’s preliminary studies, compositional studies, wood-engraved states, and final prints: