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Monthly Archives: 05/2014

Pure Form

Posted on by Emily Vigor

Edith Heath at workEveryone says food tastes better on Heathware.  As yet no scientific studies have been done, but during the past several months Emily and Jessie, along with a dedicated exhibition committee, have been combing through the files and folders of the Brian and Edith Heath Collection to assemble the latest show in the EDA exhibition series - A Handful of Clay: The Legacy of Edith Heath.

Edith Heath is best known for her exquisite stoneware and architectural tile. When she first arrived in California, right after the start of WWII, she and Brian would drive around looking for clay pits to gather raw materials to experiment with. Brian made her first potter’s wheel out of an old treadle sewing machine in their rented basement apartment in a Julia Morgan house in San Francisco. As much a chemist as a ceramicist, Edith paid close attention to the formula of her clay and glazes making her products stand out in the design community.

The couple started Heath Ceramics in 1944 with Edith as the creative genius and Brian as business manager. Her hand-thrown and jiggered stoneware gained notoriety for its style, quality, and durability. Her focus on simplicity and functionality made the ceramics applicable in both professional and personal spaces. The iconic notched ashtray was a standard in the homes and offices of many. Did you know that the notches were actually Brian’s design innovation? The dinnerware adorned the tables of families and restaurants, including Chez Panisse. And the tile was used in the built environment throughout the world, including the Norton Simon Art Museum, which won her a coveted AIA Industrial Arts Medal. 

Using archival treasures from the Heath Foundation, private holdings, and a variety of EDA collections, the exhibit highlights key aspects of her life and work. Memorable items include a coat made for Edith by Evelyn Royston, one of the smocks Edith wore while working in the studio, a painting of Brian by Edith and numerous samples of Heathware and tile. Included  are drawings illustrating the innovative Marquis & Stoller designed Heath Ceramics plant that continues to function as a working factory and showroom for the company today, and their barge home on the shores of Tiburon. The photographs and articles about the barge are an exciting window into the artistic community and lifestyle that Brian and Edith formed around them.

The exhibit opens on Thursday May 22 at 7:00pm in the Environmental Design Library with a much anticipated panel discussion led by Heath researcher Jennifer Doublet. Joining Doublet will be landscape architect JC Miller who will speak on the creative social circle that the Heath’s were a part of along with good friend landscape architect Robert Royston; and Winnie Crittenden, the niece of Brian and Edith and a long time employee of Heath Ceramics.

The exhibit is made possible by generous funds from the Heath Foundation and will be up through September 19. For information on library hours and directions please visit http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/hours or call 510-642-4818.