Portmeirion: Pottery Trendsetter

Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass
November 9, 2018
Entrance view of Portmeirion: Pottery Trendsetter display Room 146
‘Portmeirion: Pottery Trendsetter’, Room 146, seen from the entrance doorway. © Victoria and Albert Museum

As you pass through the black marble doorway from Gallery 145, this is the first intriguing view you’ll encounter of our new ceramics display ‘Portmeirion: Pottery Trendsetter’. The display can be found in Room 146, which is the easternmost of our Ceramics Galleries. Just take the Glass Lift straight up to level 6 to find it, or alternatively the Main Cromwell Road Entrance lift to level 6 then turn left on entering Gallery 139.

V&A Director Tristram Hunt officially opened the new display on the evening of 30th October to an invited gathering of over 100 guests. Dick Steele then gave a speech on behalf of Portmeirion Group plc, of which he is Chairman. The display will run until 28 July 2019 and you might like to come to see it whether you are a devoted collector or enthusiast or even if you just have a few pieces of Portmeirion pottery or porcelain at home. Designers and artists, as well as schoolchildren and design students, might also like to study the wide range of motifs and shapes launched between the mid-20th century and the present day. Whatever your particular interest, you have several months in which to visit this show. Time passes quickly though, so please don’t miss it! Further information on visiting the Museum can be found on our website, and for the display, see  What’s On.

Shelf of 'Totem' items by Susan Williams-Ellis in the Portemeirion display in G146
‘Totem’, relief-moulded pattern for ‘Cylinder’ shape, Susan Williams-Ellis for Portmeirion Potteries Ltd, Stoke-on-Trent, launched 1963. © Victoria and Albert Museum

2018 marks the centenary of the birth of Susan Williams-Ellis (6 June 1918 – 26 November 2007), the founder of Portmeirion, the internationally-renowned Stoke-on-Trent pottery. For more than four decades from the early 1960s, she was principal designer at the factory. Her energy, imagination and innovation, combined with an instinctive grasp of what customers wanted, brought commercial success and inspired many imitators. To celebrate her centenary, the Museum has brought together a representative selection of Susan’s classic designs. These include ‘Totem’, a striking relief pattern inspired by native American symbols, which adorns Susan’s incredibly tall ‘Cylinder’ shape coffee pot which really wowed trade and retail alike when it first appeared. ‘Magic City’ was a very popular transfer-printed pattern for the dramatic ‘Serif’ shape coffee pot with its distinctive, eastern-inspired axe-shaped handle. Susan’s best-known design is undoubtedly the ever-popular ‘Botanic Garden’. Launched in 1972, it has been produced in the tens of millions, is exported round the world and still accounts for half of Portmeirion’s global sales.

Susan Williams-Ellis applying a transfer-printed 'Botanic Garden’ lithograph to a vase
Susan Williams-Ellis applying a transfer-printed ‘Botanic Garden’ lithograph to a vase. © Portmeirion

Because of the generosity of the lenders to the Portmeirion display, it has been possible to trace the development of the pottery from its Welsh origins to its present-day productions, representing the major trendsetting milestones and a diverse range of designs on the way. The company, following Susan’s retirement, continues to maintain Susan’s exacting standards and to achieve great success with ranges such as ‘Sophie Conran for Portmeirion’ and the latest designs from Sara Miller and Queensberry Hunt.

Case of modern pottery and porcelain designs in Portmeirion display G146
Portmeirion: Pottery Trendsetter. Case of pottery and porcelain designs from 1994 to the present. © Victoria and Albert Museum


‘Portmeirion: Pottery Trendsetter’ 31 October 2018 to 28 July 2019

Supported by Portmeirion

The V&A expresses sincere thanks to the those who have generously lent objects to this display


About the author

Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass
November 9, 2018

I am a Curator in the Ceramics and Glass Section of the Department of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass. You can see my display of the V&A's 16 ceramic poppies...

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