&Open Jul 03, 2019
A descendent of a 5th generation ceramics family in Stoke-on-Trent, England, Emily Johnson is coaxing industrial craft into the modern era. In our conversation, she explains her obsession with inventiveness and how good relationships foster fruitful collaboration, even outside of the ceramics studio.
I was born and bred in Stoke-on-Trent until my parents sent me away to boarding school, which sounds cruel, but really wasn’t since there was better education elsewhere in the UK. Our first family ceramics company, Johnson Brothers, was founded here in 1882. And that’s where our name 1882 Ltd.comes from today.
Our whole ethos is showing that ceramics can be cool, innovative and challenging. We enjoy working with people who have never worked with ceramics before but have a really keen understanding of design. That way, they come to the material without any preconceived notions and will design something beautiful from their imaginations rather than because they already know how to make ceramics look beautiful.
While craft can imply a lone potter at the wheel, we are not lone potters. We try to showcase the people making your objects. At the end of the day, our business is all about people.
Because Stoke-on-Trent is the heart of industrial ceramics, everything gets made here. Each piece is individually hand cast, fired and glazed. While craft can imply a lone potter at the wheel, we are not lone potters. We try to showcase the people making your objects. At the end of the day, our business is all about people. That’s why it’s important to make sure that you work with really lovely people who respect the process. They make all the difference when you hit a struggle, which, in ceramics, you invariably do. Instead of walking away, you all have a willingness to go that extra mile because there’s mutual respect.
There’s an interesting story that illustrates this point exactly. A while back, a politician came up to Stoke-on-Trent and was introduced to one of our modelers. For context, this man has modeled things for the Royal Palace, and some of the greatest designers in the world. When the politician came to town, the modeler stood there in a pair of jeans with plaster dust on them. With one look, this politician decided that he didn’t like what he saw and refused to shake the modeler’s hand. While incredibly disappointing, the lesson here for me was that you never know what genius someone might possess, so don’t dismiss anybody. Show everyone respect. In our industry, the designer may have the glam photograph and celebrated bio, but without someone like the modeler — the person behind the scenes who makes a vision come to life — you won’t have anything. That’s why choosing partners who value the individuals making their collection is so important: without respectful relationships, nothing can come to fruition.