Born 6th June 1918, Susan Williams-Ellis was one of Britain’s most celebrated designers of the second half of the twentieth century. Her designs were at the forefront of contemporary style and continue to inspire the ceramics industry today.
By the age of 42, Susan was on her way to revolutionising the pottery industry, co-founding the Portmeirion brand and creating Portmeirion’s most iconic design, Botanic Garden.
Following her marriage to husband Euan Cooper-Willis in 1945, the entrepreneurial duo moved to Wales and took control of her father Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’ souvenir shop in the village of Portmeirion. This ignited the couple’s flair for business, which would see them launch Portmeirion pottery in 1960.
In 1963, Susan’s futuristic designs put Portmeirion on the map, with the launch of its abstract relief-moulded Totem range.
Portmeirion’s Creative Director Julian Teed remembers working with Susan: “It was an absolute honour to have worked with Susan for over 15 years, witnessing first-hand her wonderfully creative mind at work. Susan’s vision was to create affordable and beautiful tableware to be cherished for years to come, and she succeeded greatly at achieving this.
“The factory and village were an extension of Susan’s family. She never switched off. On many occasions, Susan could be found in the factory at night taking cups of coffee to those on the night shift. She surrounded herself by the things she loved most in life - design, animals, flowers, and her employees.”
Showing no signs of slowing down, Susan continued to experiment with her designs, leading to the creation of her most celebrated collection, Botanic Garden.
Inspired by the hand-coloured herbal book, The Universal, or Botanical, Medical and Agricultural Dictionary by Thomas Green, Susan had an eye for detail and mesmerising illustrations of flower prints.
Going against the grain, Susan created individual motifs for each piece in the collection, an incredibly innovative decision at the time. Using a uniform leaf border on each product, Susan created a cohesive collection and the iconic Botanic Garden was born.
The late Susan Williams-Ellis discussed the creation of Botanic Garden said: "I remember when we first launched Botanic Garden. At that time, you might have had dessert sets which had different patterns on each plate, but for the traditional tableware setting, everything had to match. I thought 'Why can't we have different patterns all within one collection? So, I created Botanic Garden!' The department store buyers in 1972 said that no-one would stock it as there were too many designs and that no-one would want to buy it as it didn't match. I think I proved them all wrong!"
For 40 years, Botanic Garden has been a serene and comforting presence amidst the increasing busyness of our everyday lives. As the world races around us, the most recognised collection in British ceramics is still holding the fort at the centre of home and family life - a secret garden in which to enjoy the good times.
Each and every ceramic piece is made with care, attention and love, passing through 22 pairs of hands before being ready for a home.