Edith Heath: Philosophies, will serve as the comprehensive resource on Edith Kiertzner Heath (1911-2005) and the history of Heath Ceramics, emphasizing the philosophical foundations and influences of one of the most significant creative forces in post-WWII America. Heavily illustrated, it will feature an introduction and ten chapters contributed by artists and scholars who have conducted research using the Brian and Edith Heath Collection at the Environmental Design Archives (EDA), UC Berkeley. This publication will serve as a complement to the 2020 exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California, offering substantial and in-depth commentary on the presented themes—the environment, feminism, experimentation, architecture, politics, collaborations—while solidifying the relevance of Edith Heath’s story in contemporary life and society.
Thematically organized, Edith Heath: Philosophies, emphasizes lesser-known narratives and utilizes rarely seen images. Edith Heath considered her dinnerware to be more than a collection of objects; it was a statement of good design reflecting the post-war American West Coast lifestyle. The book departs from the traditional linear narrative of the company and situates Edith Heath as an influential and under-acknowledged figure in ceramic design history. The text and rich illustrations will appeal to a diverse audience interested in post-WWII design, material culture, and California history.
Chris Marino and Waverly Lowell, Curator and Emeritus Curator of the Environmental Design Archives at the University of California, Berkeley, will discuss the significance of the Brian and Edith Heath/Heath Ceramics Collection and introduce the collection’s scope and contents.
Jennifer M. Volland, independent curator and writer, will talk about the genesis of the publication—including her work with the Heath Foundation, the Environmental Design Archives, and the Oakland Museum of California—and how this project fits within her broader goals to highlight figures and moments in design history that have been overlooked. She will also contextualize Edith Heath and Heath Ceramics within contemporary life and society, substantiating why this story is relevant now.
Jay Stewart, Executor of the Heath Foundation, will provide a framework for the content, and explain how the book furthers the mission of Edith Heath and the foundation.
Julie Muniz, Rosa Novak, and Jennifer M. Volland will construct a select historical timeline on Edith Heath and Heath Ceramics, situating personal and professional markers against major world and regional events. This element will be illustrated and graphic in nature.
ESSAYS (authors, working titles, and abstracts)
1. Julie Muniz – Design and Product Innovation
Since the very beginnings of Heath Ceramics, Edith Heath firmly believed in offering her customers “open stock” so they could replace their pieces over time. This meant that most Heathware products were never truly discontinued, even as Edith’s non-stop creative impulses resulted in more and more products being added into production. This essay will look at the evolution of Heath Ceramics products in the context of Edith Heath’s life, how Heath’s commercial clients impacted the design and development of the Heath product lines, and which products succeeded, which did not, and why.
2. Jennifer M. Volland – The World Was Written in Clay
The Brian and Edith Heath Collection at the Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley, is comprised largely of flat work—brochures, art work, photographs, project records, clay and glaze tests—and is augmented with a representative sample of tile and stoneware. What sets apart this archive from others of its kind is the omnipresent voice of its subject: Edith Heath. Edith’s writings tell us a great deal about her work and life—how seriously she took her craft, what her passions were, and how she related to other people and the world around her. This essay will look at the idea of words and clay as binary forms of expression and explore the intersection between these two mediums, revealing an intimate glimpse into the underpinnings of Edith’s philosophy and the decades long history of Heath Ceramics.
3. Rosa Novak - Edith Heath as Land Artist
In the 1970s and 1980s, Edith Heath produced a body of work comprised of double exposure photographs that frame California land within the circular lens of a Heath rimmed salad plate, poetry that speaks to the vastness of geologic time and the cyclical nature of clay, and collages that bring Heath’s photography and writing together. This essay will evaluate the way Edith Heath approached clay as a material throughout her career and present the possibility that she could now be considered a precursor to, and contemporary of, women working in land art.
4. Drew Johnson – Regionality and Heath Ceramics
Edith and Brian Heath, much like their better-known contemporaries Ray and Charles Eames, were central to the history of West Coast design. This essay will discuss how Heathware became a classic—seamlessly bridging the categories of everyday usefulness and museum quality work. It will revisit OMCA’s own collection of Heath Ceramics and, with the support of EDA archival materials, it will recover a lost history, which will reveal Edith Heath’s contributions to the region and how she navigated the professional, and often critical, worlds of art and design in the Bay Area.
5. TBD – Craft in post-World War II America and its impact on the feminist movement of the 1960s
Prior to the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s, a hierarchy of the arts existed whereupon decorative forms were deemed less intellectually challenging than fine art, and were thus devalued by the male-dominated art world. However, a dearth in products during World War II and a trend toward more organic forms and materials opened the door for work in ceramics, textiles, and metal—the women creating these objects emerged from their shroud of anonymity. This essay argues that Heath’s influence ended up being far greater than her male counterparts operating within the realm of “fine arts” as her work helped define a new West Coast lifestyle that is still relevant and practiced today.
6. Emily Vigor – Architecture
Edith Heath spent her life designing for space. While her engagement with ceramics started as a production of dinnerware, it developed into an industry that included tile. This essay will explore the evolution of Heath’s engagement with architecture, from her close friendships with Bay Area designers and the development of her cherished factory, to her utilization of Heath tile in built environments. Though not an architect, Edith’s relationships with architects, landscape architects, and designers allowed her to explore and express her strongly held ideas about design.
7. Rosa Novak-Léon Galleto's Dimensional Wall Coverings
Léon Galleto, a French ceramicist with a background in Scandinavian design, began working for Heath Ceramics in 1958. That same year, he developed a series of raised, geometric, three-dimensional tile for the company, marking the first time a designer other than Edith Heath contributed to the Heath Ceramics line. This essay will argue that due to Galleto’s aesthetics shaping the beginning of Heath Ceramics’ tile production, the company’s inclusion in the scope of California modernist architecture grew from the domestic modernism of the Case Study house program to the late modernist commercial shopping malls of Victor Gruen and Welton Becket.
8. JC Miller – Collaborations and the Creative Circle of Edith Heath
Shortly after moving their burgeoning business from Gumps to the Mason Ferry Building in Sausalito in 1947, the Heaths also relocated, purchasing a barge named the Dorothea together with another couple. Anchored at Sausalito, the barge was remodeled into two living spaces. In 1949, the barge was floated to a waterfront parcel that the Heaths purchased on the Tiburon peninsula and then lifted to a stable position on shore. After buying out the other couple, the Heaths developed the houseboat, turning it into an on-land-residence and garden. Edith Heath turned to her friend Robert Royston for site planning and design of the garden. Heath and Royston were among a group of architects, designers, artists, and performers who sought an idyllic suburban life in Marin County. This essay will discuss how a perfect storm of circumstances in the mid-20th century—starting with the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1938 and continuing through unprecedented industrial and population growth in the three decades that followed—permanently transformed the Bay Area and gave rise to a creative circle of individuals whose collaborations perfectly captured the ethos of experimentation and ingenuity in post-WWII America.
9. Rosa Novak – Shaping the Future of Ceramics
In the Brian and Edith Heath Collection of the Environmental Design Archives, there is a piece of Heath Ceramics letterhead titled, “Heath Ceramics Inc.” and written below in Edith Heath’s handwriting, “might become a research center.” Toward the end of her career, Edith Heath shifted her attention from Heath Ceramics’ dinnerware and tile production to material research in line with her proposed Heath Ceramics Research Center. This essay will examine Edith Heath’s various innovations in the field of ceramics during the 1980s and 1990s, trace this work back to experimentation in ceramics and design that two of Heath’s early mentors carried out in Weimar-era Germany, and propose that these little-known projects from late in Edith Heath’s life have the capacity to change the scope of practices in ceramic education and industry to this day.
10. Catherine Bailey and Robin Petravic – Tradition in Heath Ceramics
The notion of tradition remains a guiding force at Heath Ceramics. Much Heathware has been in production for well over a half century, and new work is created with an intention and purity central to Edith’s design ethos—in essence, letting the objects speak for themselves. This essay will explore how the past history of Heath Ceramics informs the current business model. Through the examination of archival material, Bailey and Petravic will draw parallels between their practice and Edith’s views on experimentation, advertising and marketing, environmental practices, and employee relations, among other topics.
11. Allan Collier – Edith Heath’s influence on British Columbia ceramics
In the summers of 1951 and 1952, Edith Heath traveled to Vancouver to teach pottery through the University of British Columbia Extension Department. Her courses helped kick-start the development of studio pottery in Vancouver which, over the next few years, gained national prominence. This paper will examine the background to Edith Heath's appointment at UBC; Heath’s role in establishing UBC’s new pottery facility–the Ceramic Hut–in conjunction with kiln designer Hal Riegger; Heath’s impact on students through her materials-based curriculum; and her recommendations for further development of the UBC program.
*Three to four more essays to be confirmed
Selection of articles that document the history of Edith Heath and Heath Ceramics
List of Illustrations, Acknowledgments, Contributors’ Biographies