I am always looking for ways to stay engaged and active in my work. Sometimes this means restricting my palette, other times it means altering my narrative or adapting new motifs. Recently, spurred on by curiosity about making a more easily marketable and producible line of my work, I began looking into Mid Century Modern Ceramics and Bauhaus Ceramics. I was not surprised to find a wide variety of ceramicists and important makers. I was however surprised to find a name that I had seen in work that was still in production. Edith Heath who founded Heath Ceramics here in California in 1948 with her husband Brian. Some of you may be more familiar with her work and accomplishments than I was but those of you who aren’t really should be.

Edith Heath was born in Iowa in 1911 and was a child of the depression which strengthened her resourcefulness. After taking a art education course in the 1930’s she redesigned a treadle powered sewing machine into a potters wheel and started making work with her husband in California. In 1943, ever the student and always curious, she partitioned the University of California Berkeley’s extension program to host a yearlong course in clay and glaze chemistry where she learned to engineer her own clay bodies and glazes. She focused her work on developing simplistic forms and glazes which were instep with popular aesthetic of the modernist architecture which was in full bloom at the time. She would become known for her use of local California clays in the production of her wares. These clays were rich in unrefined ores which created dark speckles that shone through her unique glazes.

In the late 1940’s she was active in the ceramics community, exhibiting at the Syracuse Ceramic Nationals (from 1946-1950) and working in her own studio. She was fortunate enough to be asked by Gumps (which is a luxury home furnishing and decor retailer founded in 1861 in San Francisco) to supply a line of her work for their stores. While she took on a few assistants she continued to actively participate in the production of her line and by 1949 Heath Ceramics was producing 10,000 pieces a year. Before his death in 1959 Frank Lloyd Wright had even been taken with her wares and commissioned several sets for specific projects of his.

Amazingly her “Coupe” line of ware has been in production since 1948 and has built a tremendous base of followers and collectors. Also important to her success was the development of a line of tiles for architectural and commercial use. In this line she embraced variety and eschewed uniformity by hand making the entire line. This line of tiles won her the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal. She was the first non-architect to win this distinction. Architects such as Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard, William Pereira and others specifically designated the use of her tiles for a number of projects. In her life time she exhibited and won awards from the de Young Museum, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and others.

Edith Heath died in 2006 at the age of 94 only selling her ceramic business in 2003 to Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey who are currently running and operating under the original name of Heath Ceramics and are continuing to win numerous awards while moving the pottery forward.

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Sources:

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Edith-Heath-renowned-ceramicist-2507635.php

 

Bray, Hazel V. (1980). The Potter’s Art in California 1885-1955. Oakland, CA: The Oakland Museum Art Department. p. 62. ISBN 0-295-96200-3.

 

Klausner, Amos (2006). Heath Ceramics, The Complexity of Simplicity. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, LLC. p. 20. ISBN 0-8118-5560-0.

 

http://ecosalon.com/heath-ceramics/

 

http://pmcaonline.org/exhibitions/edith-heath-tabletop-modernist/

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