In 1960, Susan Williams-Ellis and her husband, Euan Cooper-Willis purchased a small pottery decorating company in Stoke-on-Trent called A.E.Gray Ltd. Susan had worked with A.E.Gray’s for some years, sending her designs there to be produced exclusively for the gift shop at the Portmeirion Village in North Wales, which had been created by her father, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in 1925. This was their first experience of the pottery industry. Previously Susan had Fine Art training from Chelsea Polytechnic, where her tutors included Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland.Since graduating, Susan had had several different careers; she was a draughtswoman at the Air Ministry during the war and then taught A level art for a while at Dartington. During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Susan and Euan lived an almost self-sufficient life on their farm in North Wales. To supplement their income Susan took on some book illustration commissions and Euan, who had studied Mathematics and Statistics at Cambridge, worked part-time as a stockbroker in the City. In 1961 Susan and Euan purchased a second pottery firm, called Kirkham’s Ltd. This was equipped for actual pottery manufacture, whereas Gray’s could only decorate. This allowed Susan to start designing shapes rather than surface pattern alone (in the 1960’s it was considered quite unusual for a designer to do both). Her first set of shapes were based on some existing cylindrical moulds (‘Porous Cells’) found at the factory. They were of varying diameters, so by cutting the different sizes to different lengths, Susan was able to create a tall, straight coffee set.The simplicity of her shapes made them immediately popular and soon Portmeirion was struggling to keep up with the demand. Her design, Totem, was launched in 1963. Embossed symbols such as spirals and stars decorated her simple shapes; available in blue, amber and olive, Totem earned Portmeirion a reputation for new and innovative design.
By the early 1970’s Susan Williams-Ellis was looking for something new. A nineteenth century publication, discovered by chance, was thus adapted and became Botanic Garden. It became one of the world's biggest selling tableware patterns and still accounts for half of the company's turnover. The beauty of the Portmeirion Pottery collection of tableware, giftware and cookware, stems from Susan Williams-Ellis’ ability to design and model shapes that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing, Susan has always expected her pottery designs, both shapes and pattern, to fit comfortably with everyday life. Since the 1960’s Susan has created all the shapes by turning the originals by hand from which the moulds were produced. The design department continues to create new products, shapes and innovative ranges under the watchful eye of Susan, with the modelling department maintaining the highest standard of design.