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Image of Melon-shaped ewer

Melon-shaped ewer
Korea, Koryo Dynasty, 12th century
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
OC.122 & A-1946


Although I was studying Medical Sciences at Cambridge University, I had also taken an A level in Ceramics and was very involved in the arts and music. Twice a week I used to have an hour between lectures and I would spend this time in the Fitzwilliam Museum, downstairs in the collection of Applied Arts, looking at illuminated manuscripts, silverware, wood carving and, of course, the extensive collection of English, European and Oriental ceramics. It was there that I first encountered pots in the flesh that I had previously only seen in books. Each visit I would explore different areas of the museum, but I used to end each time by going to look again at the Chinese and Korean celadon wares, of which the Fitzwilliam has such a fine collection.

There are many pieces that I remember, but one example is particularly fine and demonstrates many of the attributes that I admire about celadon wares: the melon-shaped celadon ewer from 12th-century Korea. The form is gourd like and the vertical ribbing changes the form from a predictable smooth form into something much more organic and lively. Then there are subtle engraved surface textures which the simple glaze enhances. It is a marriage of technical and artistic expertise - in knowing how the glaze will interact with the surface to illuminate what is below. The qualities I found in these pieces and which drew me back again and again were a restrained elegance which at the same time was not subdued or cold, but witty, confident and stylish, playing with form and texture.

It is these qualities that I still explore and strive for in my own work and I am indebted to the timetabling of my Medical Sciences degree - that ‘lost’ intermediate hour wandering the rooms of the Fitzwilliam Museum which sparked a lifetime of experimentation.

© Joanna Howells, 2008


Image of Joanna Howells

Joanna Howells

Image of Spiral

Chthonic #1 by Joanna Howells,
2006 © Joanna Howells

Joanna Howells (b. 1960)

Born into a family of scientists in 1960, Joanna Howells grew up in a small village, Church Lawford, near Rugby in Warwickshire. Surrounded by art and music through her childhood and youth, she studied Natural Sciences and Medicine at Queens’ College, Cambridge, but decided to pot rather than practise after graduation. Guided by the collector and gallery owner Henry Rothschild, who introduced her to the renowned potter Colin Pearson, Howells followed a foundation course at the Sir John Cass School of Art and then studied Ceramics at Harrow College of Higher Education. A formative period, influential teachers included Mike Casson, Mike Hullis, Mo Jupp, Danny Killick, Victor Margrie and West Marshall.

Now exclusively working in porcelain, Howells has been based in Wales since 1997. A highly respected contemporary maker, her work has featured in many group and solo exhibitions in Britain and abroad and she is a Fellow of the Crafts Potters Association. Howells also lectures and writes and in 2007, in her role as a director of Kestrel Books, published Richard Jacobs’ Searching for Beauty: Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter. A dedicated teacher, Howells also regularly gives master classes at her Tythegston Pottery studio near Nr Porthcawl in Glamorgan.

Joanna Howells lives with her husband in South Wales.

UCP 2008


The work shown by Joanna Howells here is Chthonic #1 from 2006. ‘Chthonic’ means ‘primordial’ or ‘of the earth’. Made by stretching a freshly thrown form from the inside, the vessel evokes echoes of the geological forces that shape our landscapes. It is glazed with Chun glaze, a Chinese glaze first used for the imperial court during the Song dynasty (7th century).

Related Links

Selected Bibliography

J. Howells, ‘The Way We Live Now', Ceramic Review, no. 215, 2005

J. Howells, ‘All Fired Up – The Symbolism of Firing’, Ceramics Art and Perception, no. 68, 2007

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