John Hermansen: ceramicist

Aficionados of the ceramic world will know that potter John Hermansen was the man behind a brand of stoneware storage jars that graced the worktops of many a kitchen in the 70s and 80s.

The two-tone oatmeal coloured range with its distinctive black italic wording was sold worldwide and in all the top department stores in the UK – from a pottery in Brailsford.

In its heyday the Derbyshire-based hive of industry employed 17 staff trying to keep up with the demand but since John sold it on some years ago it has since closed.

Although you might imagine John would have retired by now the 78-year-old is in fact still producing ceramics from a studio at Cromford Mill – albeit much more at his own pace.

“I have pretty much come a full circle really and am back to studio pottery again now. I might be past the age when people are expected to retire but what else would I be doing? I enjoy being in the studio and being creative.

“I can choose when I come here these days, but I am here most of them and enjoy meeting and talking to people and holding pottery classes,” he said.

John began his working life as a photographer travelling the world to places such as Russia, Afghanistan, the Far East and Australia.

It was while he was in New Zealand that he met Harry Davis, a well-known English potter who produced domestic ware from his own pottery in Cornwall during the 1940s before deciding to emigrate.

“It was a chance meeting but I found him interesting and he introduced me to pottery I was looking for something else to do and so when I returned home to England I decided to learn more about it myself.”

John moved to Derbyshire and studied at Derby College before setting up his studio at Ashleyhay and subsequently at Brailsford where his business idea took off.

“It was an incredible time. We were producing something very different and we found a gap in the market. We built the business up over several years and had a lot of fun, although of course it was hard work.”

While running a successful manufacturing business may be the dream of many people today, John admits that he actually prefers working to his own timetable in a smaller studio.

“What I enjoy most at the moment is working on my sculptures I find that very relaxing and rewarding,” he said, pointing to a plant holder in the shape of a head that he was working on.

However it seems he doesn’t have much time to rest on his laurels because the John Hermansen brand is now best known for a series of quirky sauce pots which come with the head of a pig, sheep, cow or chicken.

They were the idea of his wife Susan and he says they are flying off the shelves in the studio and at fairs he attends.

“They are only available from us here, so they are exclusive and unique and people love the humour in them,” he said.

John’s work can seen at his studio at the heart of the Cromford Mills site, you just need to check his website for opening times.

He will also be taking part in the fifth Belper Arts Festival Arts Trail which is on over the first May bank holiday May 6 and 7.