Joanna Bird: a life in ceramics

Joanna Bird is an international art dealer and consultant with over thirty years’ experience in the art world as a practitioner, agent, gallerist and commentator. She is much in demand as a curator and consultant, and works with the most exciting talents among contemporary ceramicists worldwide.

For her many high profile clients, Joanna acts as an agent for the purchase and commissioning of the best of contemporary art. She specialises in the site-specific display of craft ceramics and glassware in particular architectural settings, frequently using works of the masters to wordlessly illustrate the creative roots and context of more recent pieces.

Intellectually, Joanna’s main interest and area of expertise is in the Studio Pottery movement, which reclaimed pottery as an individual art from the jaws of mass production and industrialisation. The triumvirate that emerged from the meeting between the British ceramicist Bernard Leach and his Japanese counterparts Shoji Hamada and Soetsu Yanagi – almost exactly a hundred years ago – is a particular source of fascination and inspiration for her.

Joanna studied sociology and set up a Cordon Bleu restaurant in Dublin before finding her true métier in the art world. In the 1970s she studied ceramics for three years with Michael Cardew, Bernard Leach’s best-known pupil, and was a working potter herself for eight years. Since the late 1980s Joanna has been selling ceramics, initially from a Bond Street gallery at which she often exhibited jointly with her husband, the art dealer Bunny Bird. Her home in Chiswick, West London now doubles as a gallery and as the base for her international consultancy. Joanna regards pots as a delight in that they ‘give’ something to you, through the maker’s inspiration and are a potential investment.

At present Joanna is working with the Devonshires to develop a new gallery for ceramics at Chatsworth house, Derbyshire – the most recent in a series of commissions undertaken for the Duke of Devonshire. Over the last fifteen years she has developed an extensive exhibition programme, and has been a consistent presence at international art fairs, including ‘SOFA’, New York, and ‘COLLECT’ in London.

Joanna’s other museum and gallery clients include:

  • The Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
  • The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
  • The Long Beach Museum of Art, California
  • The Togei Messe Mashiko Gallery, Japan
  • The David and Alfred Smart Museum at the University of Chicago
  • Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
  • Cincinnati Art Museum, USA
  • Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter
  • National Museum of Wales

Joanna is developing a lecture programme on ceramics and the history and practice of collecting; in February 2010 she was a keynote speaker at the V&A’s event ‘Craving, Caring and Collecting’, which explored the history and legacy of the Studio Pottery movement. An engaging speaker, Joanna offers an absorbing insight into the world of ceramics and collecting, beautifully illustrated with the finest examples of contemporary and classical art.