COOPER, Susie (1902-1995), ceramic artist & designer, Tunstall
Susie Cooper was born (1902) into a farming family. She was very interested in nature as a child and made carvings and models based on her observations. She enrolled at Burslem School of Art where her progress was so spectacular she won a scholarship for full-time study. She was also offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. Guided by Frederick Forsyth (Superintendent of Art Education in Stoke-on-Trent and Principal of Burslem school of Art) she went as a designer to A E Gray and Co. of Hanley in 1922. Her work was so impressive that her name appeared on the ware she had designed.
In 1929 she set up her own factory and despite the economic depression her innovative tableware and ornaments were popular world wide. Later she worked as a designer for the Wedgwood group. Susie Cooper died in 1995.
Susie Cooper was the youngest of the seven children in her family, having three sisters and three brothers. She enjoyed drawing as a child and began her art education in an informal way by attending evening classes at Burslem School of Art. Her ability was noted and with a Scholarship, Susie Cooper was able to attend the Art School full-time.
In 1922 Susie Cooper joined AE Gray & Co. Ltd. in Mayer Street, Hanley to design in luster's and paint her own ideas. She wished to attend the Royal College of Art and was not eligible unless in employment. This intended brief stay in the pottery industry extended to 60 years. Mr Gray designated Susie Cooper designer and a special backstamp was devised for her designs, incorporating her name.
AE Gray and Company Ltd. was a decorating firm, buying in white-ware shapes from other manufacturers. This limitation on Susie Cooper's design ideas led to her break away to set up her own business, on her birthday in 1929 (29 October). Her partner in the venture was her brother-in-law Jack Beeson.
Disaster struck the newly found company since the landlord was made bankrupt and it was only in the Spring of 1930 that real business commenced in the Chelsea Works, Moorland Road, Burslem with Susie Cooper buying in earthenware shapes to be decorated with her own designs. The enthusiasm with which these wares were greeted at the British Industries Fair 1931 led Harry Wood, her major white-ware supplier, to offer Susie Cooper space at his Crown Works, Burslem with the promise of making Susie Cooper shapes. This was a triumph since the shapes and patterns could be designed as a whole.
‘Uncle Jack’ was a great enthusiast for Susie Cooper Ware and was a very successful salesman. He coined the phrase 'No home is complete without Susie Cooper Pottery' causing the Duchess of York to buy items at the BIF 1933. The Company was based on the family team and its ultimate success was due to the great selling ability of Jack Beeson who was the London Agent, opening the first Showroom in Woburn Place and later running the Holborn Viaduct Showroom, which was destroyed in the Blitz.
International acclaim has always been accorded to Susie Cooper. Her designs were seen in Paris in 1925 and 1937 and in many exhibitions in England. The superiority of her work was noted in 1940 when the Royal Society of Arts awarded the accolade Royal Designer for Industry (RDI), the first time that the award had been made solely for pottery design.
The Second World War brought serious problems since non-essential work was stopped for the War Effort. A valiant attempt to keep going with simple patterns was defeated when fire gutted the Crown Works in 1942. Susie Cooper's reluctance to recommence production after the War was overcome when her husband, the architect Cecil Barker, joined her in business. There were many difficulties since the supply of raw materials was restricted and suppliers of white-ware were uncooperative in supplying Susie Cooper with earthenware to decorate.
Susie Cooper confronted the challenge offered by this narrow minded approach by turning to bone china production. She bought a '2 oven factory' in Longton and turned its production from 'Longton China' into 'Fine China'. Cecil Barker transformed the factory, its production methods and body recipes until the Jason Works was a model establishment. The workforce was retrained and its attitudes revolutionised. The tea-wares designed by Susie Cooper were produced at Longton and decorated at Burslem.
Accolades followed each other in quick succession. Susie Cooper designs were chosen for the Royal Pavilion at the Festival of Britain, 1951, in addition to being shown in other areas of the Festival displays. The Royal Society of Arts chose a Susie Cooper design for its own china and the Royal Designers for Industry plate to celebrate the RSA Bicentenary was also from Miss Cooper's pencil.
A second fire brought many problems. In March 1957 the Crown Works was very badly damaged and production was disrupted for almost a year. Rising phoenix-like and looking to expansion Susie Cooper decided to make dinner ware in addition to the tea and fancy wares.
It was with this in mind that she joined RH & SL Plant in 1961 since this firm, which marketed under the name Tuscan had a bone china biscuit oven not in use. The earthenware production, which had declined in popularity throughout the 1950s, was phased out.
In 1966 Susie Cooper Pottery merged with Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd. Her factory, Crown Works, Burslem, remained an autonomous unit until 31 December 1980. There have been many successful Susie Cooper designs throughout this fourth phase, each of them being accepted for the Design Council's Index of well designed consumer products. In 1979 Susie Cooper was awarded the honour Order of the British Empire (OBE). Following this Miss Cooper had a studio at William Adams in Tunstall where she designed as prolifically as ever, in the idiom of the moment.
Susie Cooper shapes:
earthenware bone china
Kestrel c1932 Fluted
Curlew c1932 Quail c1950
Falcon c1933 Can 1955
Rex and Classic, existing shapes, were modernised
Susie Cooper design motifs:
The designs of Susie Cooper shapes have always been decidedly modern, reflecting those of the day but recurring motifs are of plants or animals executed in muted, tasteful shades.
Susie Cooper technical achievements:
- vast improvements in lithographic transfer prints which are hard to distinguish from hand-painted designs
- exquisite bone china body, light, white and very translucent
- in-glaze decoration where the design is captured and protected between two layers of glaze
- designs devised to ensure the full use of the skills of the employees
When Susie Cooper began her own business she was ‘aiming for the professional people with taste and not much money’. She has certainly achieved her aim in creating ‘an individual style of such good taste as to remain undated by any passing fashion’.
Up-dated information from 1982-1995
- 1982 80th birthday
- 1982 exhibition at Liberty, Regent Street, London - launch of ‘Daisy’ pattern on William Adams earthenware
- 1985 Pottery Ladies series in four parts on Channel 4 - Susie Copper, Clarice Cliff, Charlotte Rhead
- 1985/1986 touring exhibition arranged by Museum & Gallery Service for Yorkshire & Humberside shown at Scarborough Art Gallery, Usher Gallery Lincoln
- 1986 retired from Stoke-on-Trent to the Isle of Man
- 1987 85th birthday
- 1987 exhibition at Victoria & Albert Museum, London and Stoke-on-Trent City Museum & Art Gallery
- 1987 Honorary Doctor of the Royal College of Art
- 1987 reproduction Kestrel shape breakfast sets made by Wedgwood in three patterns-Pink Fern, Yellow Daisy, Polka Dot
- 1989/1990 exhibition at Ipswich Museum
- 1991 exhibition of Seed Paintings at Stoke-on-Trent City Museum & Art Gallery
- 1992 90th birthday
- 1992 designs for needlework
- 1992 porcelain ‘Leaping Deer’ limited edition of 90
- 1992 exhibitions at Wedgwood, Barlaston and in London
- 1993 Honorary Doctor of Letters Staffordshire University (D.Litt) (awarded by the new university, in its first group of eight awards)
- 1995 died 28 July, Isle of Man
- 1996 4 October Memorial service, the Parish Church of St. Peter ad Vincula, Stoke-upon-Trent
Largely based on information supplied by the Potteries Museum, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent
for more information about this company / potter, please consult the ceramics pages of The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Niblett, Paul. "Hand painted Gray's Pottery"
Casey, Andrew. "Susie Cooper Ceramics - A Collector's Guide"
Spours, Judy. "Art Deco Tableware"
"Elegance and Utility 1924-1978: The Work of Susie Cooper, A Tribute from Wedgwood" Catalogue by Adrian Woodhouse.
"Susie Cooper Productions" catalogue of an exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and City of Stoke-on-Trent Museum.
Crossingham-Gower, Graham. "Susie Cooper Pride of the Potteries" Art and Antiques. April 12. 1975.
Eatwell, Ann. "A Bold Experiment in Tableware Design" Antique Collector's Club 19(6) November 1984.
Fletcher, Neil. "Sixty Glorious Years - The Work of Susie Cooper" Antique Collector's Club 19(5) October 1984
McDonald Haig. "Excellent in its Simplicity" The Antique Collector, July 1987
Peake, Graham. "In the Advance Spirit". The Antique Dealer and Collector, July 1987.
Snodin, Su. "Susie Cooper, Diverse Designer". The Antique Collector, August 1982.
Winstone, Victor. "As Fresh as 50 Years Ago". Art and Antiques, June 10, 1978.
Joseph , Francis "Collecting Susie Cooper"