Mabel Symmes was forty-seven years old in 1922 when she prepared her first known design for the adjoining Blake estates, creating a sophisticated response for the twenty-two difficult acres in Kensington, California. She went on to work with prominent San Francisco Bay Area architects of the day. Symmes was an uncommon female landscape architect practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1920s and 1930s. Most of her papers and drawings were destroyed after her death. Only a handful of her gardens have been located, with drawings for two landscapes coming to light in 2019, initiating reconsideration of this woman’s career.
Born in 1875 in San Francisco, Symmes enjoyed an uprose per middle-class upbringing. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California in 1896. (She and Julia Morgan were sorority sisters; there is no evidence to date that they worked together or maintained a social connection.) A young Mabel assumed the life of a young woman with wealth and connections – attending to her interests and hobbies, hosting socials, traveling, and attending club meetings. During a stay in Redlands in 1908, possibly at a sanitorium for tuberculosis, she tried her hand at writing, publishing a short story in “The Scrap Book.” Symmes’ musical talents on the violin were on display in two 1913 events, both at Cloyne Court in Berkeley. One concert was in honor of the retiring consul of France. Symmes conducted a subsequent concert, as well as playing the violin. The diverse group of musicians included architect Ernest Coxhead on bells, and his older brother, Almeric, played the drum.
Symmes made the unusual decision to return to the university to study landscape design in 1914. She did not complete a second degree, which may have been due to WWI or to illness – during that time her sister Anita, in a letter to her husband, wrote that she despaired of Mabel ever feeling well again.
Landscape architecture was still emerging as a profession when Symmes determined that she would be a designer of landscapes. The architectural, engineering, and structural aspects of landscape architecture were associated with male building professions. Women were considered wholly unsuited to the work, although the maintenance of a home garden was acceptable. Despite these attitudes, a handful of women did achieve professional status during the last decade of the 1800s and going forward into the early 1900s. These women were encouraged by male professionals who often provided training. Typically, these women came from privileged backgrounds and learned their craft through a combination of classes and mentoring.
As noted by scholar Thaïsa Way, it was seen as gauche for women at that time to openly seek work, meaning that social connections played an especially important role in attaining design opportunities. It was unusual for a woman to maintain her design practice from an office and many women worked out of their homes. They usually collaborated with a mentor and were often limited to the preparation of planting plans, rather than full sets of plans.
Mabel Symmes found her vocation later than most, meaning she had a short career, and she worked within the constraints of her social standing. Her known clients had a social connection to some aspect of her life. She prepared her plan drawings and notes in her bedroom, and it is likely that she collaborated closely with the (male) architects with whom she worked.
Symmes was described as having poor health and being quite shy, although warm and engaging with those whom she knew. Symmes's writing style was lively and revealed a subtle sense of humor, as displayed in a series of articles describing the Blake estate landscape and its plants for the Journal of the California Horticultural.
Garden designs of the 1920s were heavily influenced by historic European styles. Symmes favored Italian garden styles, employing symmetry and restraint near the house with less formal expressions further from the main areas. Symmes also explored Spanish garden styles. Symmes and her sister, Anita Day Blake, were influential in the study, introduction, and use of new plants for California, experimenting with native plants and drought-tolerant plants. Symmes applied these lessons to her designs.
- Anson and Anita Day Blake Garden; Edwin T. and Harriet Whitney Carson Blake Garden, Rincon Rd, Kensington. Walter Bliss, of Bliss & Faville, architect, 1922.
The two Blake families developed their property together, originally sharing an entry road, pathway system, and the informal parts of the 22-acre landscape. Following Edwin’s death in 1949 the landscapes were separated. The Edwin and Harriet landscape was said to have a different character from the Anson and Anita landscape. Katherine D. Jones, a Berkeley, faculty member, brought her students to the Edwin and Harriet Blake garden for class. Jones taught plant materials and fieldwork in the landscape architecture program.
Symmes became closely associated with the Anson and Anita Blake property, living at the house and working in the garden over the second half of her adult life. For some years, this garden was the only recognized example of her work. It remains the largest and best known. Anson and Anita made plans for their property to be donated to UC Berkeley after their deaths. The Blake garden, now at 10.5 acres, is currently operated as a public garden and teaching garden by UC Berkeley.
- Marsh-Sperry gardens, Hawthorne Terrace, Berkeley. 1925; Henry H. Gutterson, architect. Three different landscape experiences were designed for this project which was created for two families. A single sheet blueprint exists.
- The Harry Una garden, Tamalpais Road, Berkeley. 1927; Walter Ratcliff, architect. A tiled Spanish-Moorish fountain and some of the original layout remain.
- Harold Spens Black garden, Alvarado Road, Berkeley. 1909; Clarence A. Tantau was the architect for the 1927 remodel. This garden was visited by students of the California School of Gardening for Women at Hayward. It seems that little of the original garden remains.
- Frances D. Olney garden, Claremont Blvd, Berkeley. 1928. Harry’s daughter, Sarah, was a Berkeley schoolmate of Symmes. A concert pianist, she lived at the house when not at her home in New York.
- The Charles W. Merrill garden, Camino Sobrante, Orinda. 1939; Walter Ratcliff, architect. Symmes prepared several pages of detailed drawings for this property. Some walls and paths remain.
- An additional garden may have been designed for Mary McLean Olney (1873-1965) on Belrose Avenue, in Berkeley. On Symmes’ death, Olney sent a condolence letter to Mabel’s sister, Anita Blake, writing, “I bless Mabel always, surrounded as I am by her beautiful work.”
The results of Symmes’ Blake estates design in 1922 displays a level of knowledge and sophistication unexpected for a novice landscape architect, suggesting the possibility that other landscapes, still unknown, preceded it. The drawings for the Merrill garden include construction details and grading plans, indicating that her abilities extended beyond planting plans. Mabel Symmes died in 1962 in Kensington. More Symmes landscapes may come to light, further illuminating the life and skills of this talented woman.
Sources for further reading:
- Blake Family papers, BANC MSS C-B 903, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
- Gracyk, Janet, “The Elusive Mabel Symmes,” Eden: Journal of the California Garden & Landscape History Society (Summer 2020): 36-47.
- Haymaker, Linda. “Blake Garden,” Pacific Horticulture (Spring 1987): 8-13.
- McNiven, Carolyn Fitzhugh, “Saving a Mabel Symmes Garden in Berkeley,” Eden: Journal of the California Garden & Landscape History Society (Summer 2020): 48-55.
- Ray, Megan, “Blake Garden History: 1922 to 1970,” Eden: Journal of the California Garden & Landscape History Society Spring 2019): 5-11.
- Riess, Suzanne B., ed. Blake Estate Oral History Project: Oral History Transcript, 1986-1987, (Berkeley: University of California, 1988. Note: Oral history is a good resource but is occasionally contradicted by other sources.
- Symmes, Mabel, “Adelante,” Journal of the California Horticultural Society. Six articles appeared between 1945 and 1947.
- Way, Thaïsa. 2009. Unbounded Practice: Women and Landscape Architecture in the Early Twentieth Century. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Note: Landscape historian Marlea Graham generously shared her own research on Symmes.
Janet L. Gracyk is a landscape architect living in the Bay Area. She received a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2001. While at Berkeley she began to seek stories behind the creation of landscapes, whether at the scale of a garden or a town, going on to author reports and studies on several historic landscapes. Her investigation into the life and career of Mabel Symmes grew out of meeting the owner of the Marsh-Sperry landscape in 2018.
The CED Visual Resources Center has a long history of collecting visual images intended to be used by faculty. In many cases, faculty members have been the source of the images the VRC holds. For much of the last 70 years, 35mm slides have been the medium through which visual images, in the form of photographs, have been stored in the VRC. When film was the dominant photographic medium (as opposed to digital images, a relatively recent technology) the faculty of CED were usually enthusiastic photographers. Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners created thousands of photographs in the course of their work - as research, as documentation, and as artistic expression. The CED VRC and its previous incarnations have always welcomed contributions by CED faculty as an important way to grow the image collections. There may be no more direct way to reflect the teaching, research, interests, and expression of the college’s faculty than through the images they created themselves.
When I first started working at the then-named Architecture Visual Resources Library in the early 2000s, I was struck by the number of slides that the library held that were donated by faculty. Many of these slides were distinctively bound - for library use, 35mm slides were removed from the laboratory-provided paper mounts and sandwiched in a thin paper mask between glass squares and bound with tape. Each faculty member seemed to have different styles of binding their slides - some were crisp and neat, others were hurried and sloppy. In time one could tell from the particular binding a slide had - the color of the tape, the type of film mask, or the style of information label - who had donated a particular slide. In the course of daily work at the AVRL, as it was known, we regularly digitized and cataloged these faculty-donated slides as our patrons requested them, or when they returned from being used in someone’s lecture or research. In doing so I always was happy to be faced with a slide bearing the distinctive silver-foil binding and neatly typewritten designation of “Arbegast Slide”. Every slide had a “source” attribution, and these sources were listed on index cards in a file that one could consult to determine more information about the annotation (they were often cryptic abbreviations).
The card for the annotation “Arbegast Slide” tells us that the source of that slide was, as you could guess, Mai Arbegast. Mai Arbegast taught at Berkeley in the Department of Landscape Architecture from 1953 to 1967. From 1967 to 2003 she ran a full-time professional practice involving the design of large-scale residential gardens/estates, wineries, in addition to commercial, educational and public projects. In addition to her professional practice, she played a key role in the gift of the Blake Garden to the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and the transfer of Filoli Gardens to the National Trust. She was largely responsible for the donation of the Beatrix Farrand Collection and Gertrude Jekyll Collection as well as the Farrand scholarship and fellowship funds to the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture.
Today the Environmental Design Archives holds Arbegast’s professional papers collection, which includes many 35mm slides of her professional work. The CED VRC, however, holds the slides which are commonly thought of as “travel slides” or non-professional work images - teaching images, research images, visual note-taking images, or often - inspiration images. These are the slides that I began noticing as I digitized and cataloged slides at the (then) AVRL and (now) CED VRC. In the spring of 2020, I was delighted to receive a grant from the CED’s Diversity Platforms Committee for a project entitled Digitizing the hidden photographs of Mai Kitazawa Arbegast. This grant allowed me to begin the process of systematically retrieving and digitizing the 35mm slides of Mai Arbegast that the CED VRC holds and arrange them together in a manner to view them as a body of work. My intention is to be able to view the images she produced as an ongoing stream of “visual interests'' that enables us to better understand her professional and teaching work when viewed in context with the textual and hand (and computer) drawn records that make up the Environmental Design Archives’ collection of her work.
While these images are not directly representative of Arbegast’s professional work, they do reflect her interests and influences, in so much as we can view in retrospect. This small selection of images to me reflects a deep interest in Arbegast’s part in large-scale human interventions upon landscapes, both physical and cultural.
As a landscape architect, she worked intimately with the “bigger picture” of arranging landscape elements among the natural and human-made world, but this of course included being sensitive to the smaller, personal level of the environment. While it is difficult to read extensive meanings into a very small, essentially random, set of images, it should be fairly clear how these images, made by Mai Arbegast while teaching at Berkeley and running her own firm, reflect her interests and pursuits.
The EDA is excited to begin our next National Endowment for the Humanities: Collections and Reference Resources Grant to organize, preserve, and make accessible materials generated by architect Cathy Simon and urban designer Karen Alschuler of the firm SMWM (Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris)! It is fortuitous to announce the start of this grant during Women’s History Month, as SMWM was the largest women-owned pioneering design firm when it was founded in 1985 by architect Cathy Simon. The firm’s focus included architecture, planning, and urban design, and included locations in San Francisco and New York. Karen Alschuler joined the firm in 1991 as an Urban Design Principal. The firm’s award-winning portfolio consists of educational projects including work for the University of California Berkeley, Davis, and Santa Cruz campuses, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Bard College; public projects including the San Francisco Ferry Building and Main Library; master plans for Stanford, Harvard, Brown, and NYU; and urban planning projects for San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point district, Boston’s Central Artery, and the Transbay Redevelopment in San Francisco. In 2008, SMWM joined the San Francisco office of Perkins + Will.
The EDA acquired this collection in 2013, and you can read more about the process of how we accessioned this material in Cailin Trimble’s blog post here. In a nutshell, Simon, Alschuler, and EDA staff reviewed 5000 items over the course of 15 months. The term ‘items’ includes cartons containing paper records (personal, office, and project), photographs, slides, CDs and floppy disks, and material samples; as well as presentation boards, framed works, rolled drawings, and models of all sizes. It was an extraordinary collection to acquire due to its sheer size and scope of collection materials, and we are thrilled that nearly a decade later we will be able to properly process and make these records available to the public.
While archival repositories have long been collecting architect’s records, there are few collections of significance that highlight the collaborative and innovative approach to design that is the trademark of Simon’s and Alschuler’s careers. Their work demonstrates that by championing user-centric design, environmental stewardship, and social equity, architecture and planning can bring people together, create communities, and nourish urbanity.
The SMWM collection is comprised of project files and drawings, photographs, firm portfolios, born-digital design files, and models. Of special concern are the 12 cartons full of born-digital records on obsolete or proprietary removable computer media, including CDs, DVDs, floppy disks and ZIP disks. These are the materials that I will be processing first as we continue to shelter in place. I’m looking forward to tackling the sheer size of this collection as it’s our largest born-digital holdings at the EDA. With the lessons learned while processing Walter Hood’s collection last year (also funded by the NEH), I look forward to continuing to expand our knowledge and experience at the EDA to ensure that we are active participants in the preservation of physical and digital records of the built environment for future generations!
By: Jennifer M. Volland
Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I visited the Brian and Edith Heath/Heath Ceramics Collection at UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Archives every few months for the past six years. This repository served as the foundation for three of my forthcoming collaborative projects—the publication Edith Heath: Philosophies (Berkeley Design Books and Information Office, 2020), the exhibition Edith Heath: A Life in Clay (Oakland Museum of California, 2021), and the exhibition Edith Heath and Emily Carr: From the Earth (Vancouver Art Gallery, 2021). Housed in a nondescript, sprawling Richmond warehouse fronted by a parking lot and a chain-link fence, the Heath archives are not in the most inspiring of locations. Still, upon arriving in the morning, I loved settling down at the large wood table to sift through box after box, folder after folder, and object after object, embarking on an all-day journey into someone else’s life and mind. I never had the pleasure of meeting Edith Heath in person, yet the archives, as they do for so many researchers, facilitated a unique type of intimate relationship.
I’ve missed these rituals. In lieu of my regular visits to the archives, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the evolution of my ideas. Most of them trace back to one document: the Heath File List. This 15-page Excel spreadsheet, consisting of four categories—Box, Folder, Title, Date—served as my guide to the Brian and Edith Heath/Heath Ceramics Collection. My copy is covered with pencil marks: asterisks indicating objects of particular interest (a small, handmade book, a candid photograph), questions (What is this? Were these for sale?), and lists (detailed breakdown of ceramic pieces). I still refer to it when I’m trying to locate or date an object, or simply looking for inspiration.
One of my earliest notations appears next to the words “Christmas Cards from Brian and Edith.” The folder associated with this note contains several versions of postcard-sized watercolors, each the same image but with slightly different coloring. Brian sits at a desk with a pile of paperwork, yet distracted by thoughts of travel. Edith, engrossed in her ceramics practice, kneels on the floor with her face in the open door of a kiln and her back to the viewer. This playful image became a central piece for the book and the exhibition in terms of its visual appeal and its informative content. It continues to pique my curiosity, as it represents a critical point in time that would go on to shape the rest of the Heaths’ life together.
We know the drawing represents the couple’s early years in San Francisco when Brian still worked for the American Red Cross and Edith had begun her forays into ceramics. We also know that at this time the couple lived in the lower flat of a Julia Morgan-designed house on one of the steepest sections of Filbert Street. The setting is quite dramatic, offering sweeping views of the city and the bay beyond. In her oral history, Edith recalled that the owner, a schoolteacher who lived upstairs with her mother, told her about how Morgan, when the house was being built in 1908, “climbed all around the scaffolding in her high button shoes and long skirts to oversee the building of it.”  Surely Edith could relate to Morgan’s hands-on approach; her formal education was steeped in the pedagogy of John Dewey, a proponent of learning by doing.
Edith also appreciated Morgan’s approach to architecture. She had learned about Morgan during her schooling in Chicago, connecting Morgan’s work with that of fellow Bay Area architect Bernard Maybeck. To relocate from the Midwest to San Francisco and to live in a Julia Morgan-designed house, one with deep regard to its surrounding environment, made quite the impression. “I loved it,” Edith recollected. “It was just really a San Francisco house.” For the Filbert Street residence, Morgan incorporated elements of the First Bay Tradition, including the use of natural local materials (redwood shingle exterior); the tailoring of the interiors to fit the needs of her clients (built-in bookcases, seating, and kitchen cabinetry); an emphasis on the indoor-outdoor relationship (large bay windows, balconies, and a rear garden); and the blending of historic detailing with modern construction techniques.
These principles are uncannily familiar to the ones that guided Edith in her ceramics practice. I don’t want to overstate the connection; Edith never attributed her creative process to Morgan. However, I can’t help but think that Edith’s early exposure to this type of craftsmanship—grounded in honesty, simplicity, and an orientation to the surrounding landscape—must have had some effect. This flat, after all, was where she brought home the clays she sourced from her drives around California, where she performed her early experiments, and ultimately, where she launched her career. Edith kept glaze materials in the pantry, a small kiln on the sink counter, and a potter’s wheel in the basement. Later, when Edith got a gas-fired kiln, she and Brian lowered it down the hill by a rope into the laundry room.
Aside from the Christmas card, not many archival artifacts exist from the first few years the Heaths lived in the flat: a few pieces of correspondence addressed to 1124 Filbert Street; enrollment materials from the California College of Arts and Crafts; a short article from the San Francisco Examiner highlighting summer activities at Presidio Hill School, where Edith served as the art director; and a black and white photograph of Edith using the treadle sewing machine that Brian converted into a potter’s wheel. The historical record is far from complete. Yet piecing together all existing materials, along with Edith’s descriptions in the oral history, we start to get an almost cinematic picture of Edith and Brian’s life during their first few years in San Francisco.
This is a picture that comes in and out of focus. Generally, as Edith’s career progresses, so too does the accumulation of archival artifacts. Still much is left to the imagination and narratives can only be gleaned from piecing together bits of information. For example, Edith’s body of work for the San Francisco retailer Gump’s, created in 1945-1946, represents the physical manifestation of Edith’s design and material research up to this time. The archives include two boxes of hand-thrown dinnerware—a variety of plates, bowls, cups, and saucers in soft blues, pale greens, and warm beige tones, as well as one with a leaf motif. While these pieces are prototypes for what would become the Heath Ceramics Coupe line, they still stand apart from contemporary production ware. The Gump’s pieces are thinner, with a matte finish, more variations in color, and prominent speckling. The connection to the earth is evident, and highlighting this connection became a standard refrain in the marketing language for Heathware. Gump’s own brochure features a photograph of Edith throwing a pot on the wheel with text that emphasizes the materiality of the dinnerware, formed from “honest, unadulterated clay.” Another brochure, this one from Bullock’s Wilshire, touts the dinnerware as having a distinct regional quality, made “for the modern home…for California living.” Despite being a relatively new transplant to San Francisco, Edith had quickly absorbed the essence of her new home state and city and translated these qualities into her work.
At the start of 1947, Edith and Brian moved their operations to the top floor of Mason’s Garage in Sausalito, transitioning from solely hand-thrown ware to more industrialized production. A staff of ten turned out 400 pieces a day for national distribution. Museums across the country featured Heath Ceramics in ceramics and “everyday design” exhibitions, and dozens of articles on Edith Heath and the company appeared in newspapers, magazines, and trade journals. The food journalist Sheila Hibben wrote one of these pivotal articles. In July 1949, Hibben sent a telegram to Edith requesting technical data regarding her work in preparation for an article on contemporary household pottery. Edith responded with a letter and a two-page statement describing the origins and makeup of her clay body, her use of glaze in an insubordinate manner to the clay itself, her consideration of functionality in design, and her dinnerware’s suitability to indoor-outdoor living both in terms of color and durability, all before ending with a description of her setting:
“Most of the time we are too busy shaping clay and compounding glazes to be aware of our idyllic panorama, but somehow perhaps unconsciously its influence comes through the clay—in that the dinnerware is a simple, unassuming, earthy expression containing within it some of the inherent beauty of nature.”
Edith’s acknowledgment of the power of her surrounding landscape in the process of artistic creation is worth noting. Like Julia Morgan had with her architecture, Edith created an enduring style that would forever be associated with the Bay Area, but that also retained a universal and lasting appeal. In her published article in the New Yorker, Hibben puts this appeal in more general terms. She called Heath tableware one of two “laudable contributions to pleasant everyday living” (alongside Eva Zeisel’s Town & Country line), undoubtedly helping position Heath Ceramics at the forefront of California dinnerware as the decade came to an end.
A few years ago while visiting San Francisco, I set out in search of Edith’s old residence. Many aspects of the city have changed—the cost of living, the traffic, the number of people. The panorama from the top of Filbert Street, however, is one constant. Aside from the revolving additions and subtractions to the city’s skyline, what I saw that day on my walk and what Edith saw nearly every day in the early to mid-1940s is the same awe-inspiring view. I’m happy to report that the house hadn’t changed much either. It is equally impressive to the view, a wonderful example of Julia Morgan’s craftsmanship. The property recently sold for close to five million dollars. Over the years, it has had several owners, including a couple who bought the multi-unit dwelling in 2002 and spent six years renovating it. The San Francisco Chronicle covered their story in 2008, and two things, in particular, caught my attention. First, the article focused on the couple’s restoration of the “downstairs kitchen”—the one in the flat where Edith and Brian lived and the location of Edith’s earliest experiments in ceramics. For this renovation, the couple referenced Morgan’s drawings, also housed at UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Archives. The drawings revealed that the kitchen was still true to Morgan’s original designs “with its wooden plate racks, glass cabinets, and tile counter.” The second thing that struck me is that the writer revealed that one of the owners is the grandson of Sheila Hibben, the very same writer that covered Edith’s work in 1949.
The writer of the article doesn’t mention the Heaths as former residents of the downstairs flat. The article’s featured couple wasn’t aware of that fact either; nor did the couple know of the connection between Edith Heath and Sheila Hibben. It is these kinds of links between the past and the present and between seemingly disparate people and subjects that continue to motivate my research interests. I should likewise mention that neither the book or exhibition tease out the broader philosophical intersections between Julia Morgan and Edith Heath. It’s simply a thread I’ve chosen to follow after revisiting the Christmas card and trying to envision the Heaths’ life in the 1940s.
What I do hope to illustrate through this exploratory process is the infinite number of research opportunities that exist within an archive. No matter how many times I go to the EDA, and no matter how many times I review my photocopies and scans and images of the artifacts in the Brian and Edith Heath/Heath Ceramics Collection, new lines of inquiry always arise. Moreover, these archival artifacts work synergistically with other sources—oral histories, newspaper databases, and other collections at Berkeley and at outside institutions—to help reconstruct Edith’s life and situate her within the context of ceramics history, design history, and post-war social and cultural history. While I’m thrilled about the scholarly contributions and creative curatorial approaches to the forthcoming book and exhibition, these projects are in no way exhaustive resources on Edith Heath. Rather I hope they prompt new questions and encourage more people to use the rich repository at the EDA as a basis for future studies.
Jennifer M. Volland is an independent curator and writer based in Southern California. Since 2014, she has been researching the life of ceramicist Edith Heath; in addition to her editorial role on Edith Heath: Philosophies, she served as the consulting producer on the award-winning documentary Heath Ceramics: The Making of a California Classic (KCET Artbound, 2019) and is the consulting curator on Edith Heath: A Life in Clay (Oakland Museum of California, 2021). Her past projects include Cabin Fever (Vancouver Art Gallery, 2018), Frank Bros.: The Store That Modernized Modern (University Art Museum at CSULB, 2017), and Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life (Vancouver Art Gallery, 2013). She received her Master of Arts in Architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles.
 Edith Heath, Tableware and Tile for the World: Heath Ceramics, 1944-1994, transcript of oral history interviews conducted by Rosalie Ross, 1990-1992, 1994, California Craft Artists Oral History Series, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1995, page 95.
 Ibid, 95.
 I would like to extend my appreciation to Rosa Novak for pointing out these materials. In the schedule of classes for fall term 1941, someone (presumably Edith) marked and filled out a schedule of studies for Landscape Composition, Advertising Art, Orientation, Costume Design/Pattern Drafting, and Advanced Design. However, it is unlikely Edith ever enrolled.
 “Edith Heath,” Gump’s brochure, 1945. The Brian and Edith Heath/Heath Ceramics Collection, Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley.
 “Bullock’s Wilshire, Made by Hand,” brochure, 1945. The Brian and Edith Heath/Heath Ceramics Collection, Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley.
 Gump’s recognized the appeal of this informal, yet elegant, dinnerware service. Edith became one of a stable of local designers and craftspeople that the retailer set up workshops for to supply goods to the store when it was unable to secure imports during and immediately following WWII. In her oral history, Edith recalled Gump’s as having approximately ten workshops; Rosinda and Rexford Holmes made greeting cards with scenes of San Francisco; Rhoda and John Pack made leather clothing and accessories; Niels Fredrickson and John Carlis made printed fabrics; among others. The collective force of these individuals helped shape post-war tastes in the Bay Area and beyond.
 Edith Heath, letter to Sheila Hibben, July 14, 1949. The Brian and Edith Heath/Heath Ceramics Collection, Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley.
 Many years later, in the 1980s, such views of San Francisco and the bay would appear Edith’s photography experiments, which juxtaposed a Heath Ceramics salad plate and mug against various California landscapes.
 Sheila Hibben, “On and Off the Avenue,” New Yorker (September 17, 1949): 86.
 James Temple, “New life for S.F. house Julia Morgan designed,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 24, 2008. Accessed online at https://www.sfgate.com/realestate/article/New-life-for-S-F-house-Julia-Morgan-designed-3198152.php.
 I tracked down the former owner while writing this blog post. Despite all of her amazing and extensive research on the property and familiarity with Heath Ceramics, she had not uncovered anything about Edith and Brian as tenants of the lower unit at Filbert Street. She was kind enough to share images of the restoration and wonderful stories about former residents and tenants, including airline crews who lived in both units during the swinging sixties, and more recently, in the 1990s, a couple of fraternity brothers that lived at the house and threw raging, disruptive parties.
The EDA is pleased to announce the completion of a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Collections and Reference Resources Grant to process and make accessible significant source materials created by urban designer Walter Hood. Walter Hood (1958-) is recognized as one of the most accomplished landscape architects and urban planners in the United States. He teaches in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the creative director of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, CA. Since 1992, his firm has reflected a fundamental desire to design for communities where landscape architecture is essential, though often neglected. Hood’s work focuses on creating environments for people to live, work, and play through engagement with a community and its history. His practice encompasses both the traditional parameters of landscape architecture and embraces urban design, community, architecture, environmental art, and research. Critics have deemed Hood’s projects transformational, in particular, Oakland’s Lafayette Square Park (1998-2001) and Splash Pad Park (2001-2002), for their ability to turn overlooked landscapes into popular and vital social spaces.
Hood was the 2009 recipient of the prestigious Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Landscape Design and has exhibited and lectured on his professional projects and theoretical works nationally and abroad. Recently, he edited the volume Black Landscapes Matter with Grace Mitchell Tada (University of Virginia Press, 2020) and his work is currently featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America (2021). He has been a fellow at the American Academy in Rome in Landscape Architecture (1997); received a Distinguished Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2010); is a recipient of the Academy of Arts and Letters Architecture Award (2017); was awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2019); and is a MacArthur Fellow (2019).
The 18-month project, Walter Hood: Redefining the Public Realm, resulted in the processing of Hood’s work from 1995-2014 and provides access to the records of his practice. The addition of Hood’s collection is part of a concerted effort by the Environmental Design Archives to ensure that a multitude of significant voices in Northern California design are preserved and made accessible for future generations. The Walter Hood Collection consists primarily of project files and drawings, firm portfolios, models, and personal sketchbooks. Physical and digital files for his design work span the length of Hood’s career from 1996-present but primarily focus on projects completed in California. The collection includes 20 boxes of manuscript materials, 7 flat files of drawings, 14 models, and 57 GB (13,351 digital files) produced by Hood and his firm. The completion of this project marks the EDA’s first hybrid collection (physical and digital records) made available to researchers. The preservation of digital files from legacy media, including CDs, floppy disks, and ZIP disks is something that we have been eager to take on at the EDA, and we are incredibly excited to be able to provide access to these resources in our reading room.
We were fortunate that the processing of the physical collection was completed at the beginning of 2020, prior to the restrictions to our physical spaces during this pandemic. I previously posted about my work to process the physical materials, as well as catalog and separate the legacy digital media to prepare for imaging, and am so thankful for our fortuitous timing. Since the digital records had already been removed from the physical collection, it was easy for me to shift to imaging them at my new workstation (aka my home). The EDA used several open-source tools to capture and preserve digital files, including Data Accessioner, TreeSize, and Bagger. I was incredibly grateful throughout the processing of these files to be able to have ongoing conversations with archivists at UC Santa Cruz’s Special Collections & Archives, who also use these tools for processing digital collections. The workflows we used to process Hood’s collection have been added to the EDA’s Born Digital Processing Plan and will be utilized in our upcoming NEH grant-funded project to process the SMWM collection.
The EDA would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, for making the processing of this collection possible. The finding aid for this collection can be accessed on the Online Archive of California here.
By: Rosa Novak
In 2018, through work with the Brian and Edith Heath Foundation, I began researching the contents of a box of clay tests recently unearthed from the ceramic designer and manufacturer Edith Heath’s estate. The cardboard box was labeled in handwritten text with, “Clay Tests and Eutectics.” It contained a jumble of small white, cream, grey, and brown clay test bricks marked in red pencil, matching tiles affixed to annotated cardboard panels, and a few scraps of paper with related notes. The process of working through the materials was an attempt to retrace Heath’s steps and re-form the series of tests as they’d once been organized, which required a wholly new understanding of her individual material testing methodology. I realized that the best place to gain this understanding would be the rich archives of Heath’s life—The Brian and Edith Heath/Heath Ceramics Collection of the Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley (EDA).
Previously, I had visited the EDA as a student to look at unpublished writings from throughout Heath’s life in order to get a sense of her design ideology. I re-visited with the box in mind, specifically to look through materials related to clay body formulation and Heath’s time at the English porcelain factory, Wedgwood, for whom she developed a dinnerware line in the mid-1960s. The extensive documentation from this period includes letters to friends and employees, internal production records, and Heath’s notes about experimentation. Together, the documents not only formed a complete story surrounding the box of tests but also offered me a rich understanding of Heath’s process of material research and its importance to her.
Most significantly, what I discovered through this project was how documents in the collection could not only provide insight into the overriding belief system of Heath’s life but also into the specific objects she created. This new way of working with materials provided a relationship to parts of the archives that I would not have initially thought to look through. Further, the process of re-marrying the collection’s rich documentation of Heath’s life with ceramic objects left behind from the same life provided me with a far fuller picture of who she was as a designer than when I sought to research that identity in and of itself.
There is a poem by Heath in the archives in which she wrote about the process of clay body formulation as rejoining the minerals of the earth, “The potter gathers together - re-combines - recycles... Minerals long separated are one again - shaped for human use -.” It is this sentiment that brings excitement to my research process at the EDA. As a researcher, I am able to gather together the pieces of Heath’s life long separated and re-combine them to create new knowledge.
The ceramic objects I’ve used as starting points live in the Heath Foundation Historic Collection (like the box of clay tests), but also in the Heath Ceramics factory and in the built environment of the American West. Each of these contexts adds a further layer of meaning to how objects can both relay a history and continue to build history. The following text and diagram highlight an object from each of these environments, mapping how materials held in the collection of the EDA have worked with these objects to form stories, and how those stories come together to form a more complete, and more complex, picture of Edith Heath. When a document or object is mentioned in the text, a number one through fourteen is included in parentheses to denote its placement in the diagram.
In the Heath Foundation Historic Collection, there is a salad plate with a dipped glaze combination that was never part of Heath Ceramics’ advertised line (1); its clay body sparkles like sand, the intense speckle apparent in a sliver of unglazed ceramic on its underside; and it is effortlessly and almost non-functionally lightweight. Through a letter Heath wrote to ceramics professor F. Carlton Ball (2) and exhibition photographs from the de Young’s 1947 exhibition, "Textiles for You and Your Home" (3), I gained an understanding of the specific time period in which the plate was made and its glaze pattern developed: early 1947. The plate appears untouched, and may never have been used after it was created and exhibited that spring. Following Heath’s death, it was catalogued and stored for future research, not to serve the use it was initially intended for again.
In part due to how well it was preserved, its qualities as an object that could not be read from the exhibition photographs or letter—its weight, its texture, and the minute speckle of its clay body—provide unique material knowledge. These characteristics, in combination with an unpublished writing by Heath titled “What is Clay?” (4) convey an ideology she applied to formulate her clay body. In the text, she questions standard practice and aesthetics in the industry and emphasizes the material efficiency of using a less-processed, less white, and coarser-grained clay body. Her choice to give her clay body the texture of sand was thus not just aesthetic or haptic, it was one driven by her strong moral compass.
Future work made from this same material later came to include a line of architectural tile. Heath tile, developed in the late 1950s, has since been woven into the fabric of the built environment of the American West, blending into buildings across the region over time through layers of dirt, smog, and paint. The tiles have continued to both physically build and lay witness to history up to the present day, taking a far more active role in the world around them than the Heath salad plate that was archived from its inception. The complexity that a Heath tile wall can lend to Edith Heath’s story is well-illustrated through Heath Ceramics’ relationship to Bank of America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as reflected in three tile commissions.
The projects are well-documented in the holdings of the EDA, through sheets of slides showing tile walls during installation (5), brochures with photographs and descriptions of tile in the bank’s offices (6), and invoices showing the specifics of tile orders for branches (7). The deep red textured Heath tile panels coating a branch in downtown Berkeley, California can be seen in a 1971 San Francisco Examiner article, titled “Berkeley’s Brickish Look,” and in a striking aerial photograph held in the collection of the Berkeley Public Library, taken by local photographer Betty Marvin in 1978 (8).
The project fit into the bank’s pattern of drastically altering its branches’ exteriors to permanently board up windows and doors in an attempt to shelter itself—as a corporation facing intense scrutiny for its role funding the Vietnam War and upholding capitalism—from protest, a brief but publicized wave of bank bombings, and the fear of arson spurred by the burning of a branch near the University of California, Santa Barbara. In Berkeley, Heath tile was the material of choice used to attempt to build walls (or board windows) between the bank and the public and became a tool and a symbol used to protect Bank of America’s political positioning in the process.
The corner at which the tiles were installed in Berkeley, and the place they’ve continued to occupy over the last fifty years, is one that lives on as a site of political protest. The tiles can be examined today as objects that have persisted in their role as a symbol of institutional power tamping this presence down, and outliving Edith Heath, herself. The intersection made famous by the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s—which prompted the tiles’ installation in the first place—has been host to demonstrations protesting policies of the Trump administration, police brutality, and capitalism’s strain on our society, while the bank’s tile walls stand idly by. Despite this role, the tiles have often been painted with the very same messages that broken windows (which the walls were meant to deter) are intended to convey. In 2014, a photographer captured the Heath tile walls used as a tool to exclaim, “No Justice No Peace” and “FTP.” Though these messages have since been scrubbed away, a wash of white paint remains in their stead, clinging to the texture of the deep red tiles and the grout surrounding them (9).
As an example of the potent history that designed objects adopt within the built environment, the tiles cladding the Berkeley Bank of America hold their own history that has continued to build, separate from the story of Edith Heath. However, the tiles also add complexity to the story of her life, as a designer who intended to embed a progressive belief system into her materials, yet sold the product she made from those materials to an institution representing “the establishment,” which used that product to shelter itself. This contradiction embodied in the bank’s tile walls suggests that new paths of inquiry into the other complexities of Edith Heath’s career could be drawn from other tile walls and other clay objects.
For example, a group of circular tiles made by Heath’s niece and Heath Ceramics glazer, Winnie Crittenden (10), conveys a similar tension between Heath’s personal belief system and her business practices. The tiles were pressed at the Heath Ceramics factory using a clay body that Heath formulated in the early 1990s, composed of 12% waste glaze. Although Heath personally adopted a strong identity as an environmentalist in the 1970s—represented in her writings in the archive (11)—decades later, new regulations intended to protect the San Francisco Bay from industrial waste highlighted her company’s lack of a sustainable waste disposal system.
Heath’s response, rather than sending the whole of the company’s glaze waste to a disposal site, was to try to incorporate the material back into production by creating the new clay body. The story of the tiles—as a matter that embodies the tension between Heath’s dual identity as a building material producer shedding heavy metals in a body of water and as an environmentalist—was once again constructed using documentation in the archives. The pieces that come together to show Heath’s creation of the waste glaze clay body include poetically written correspondence (12) and exhibition statements (13), and seemingly banal glaze mixing logs that, with a closer look, reveal extensive documentation of waste material testing (14).
The tile circles have lived in the Heath Ceramics factory in Sausalito at Crittenden’s glaze station since they were created in the 1990s. As opposed to the products made, finished, and shipped out of the factory soon afterward, they’ve become a lasting part of the history of the building. Specks of glaze splatter their surfaces, made of some of the very same waste glaze incorporated into the tiles’ fired bodies nearly thirty years ago. They are coated in a layer of dust that has settled on their surfaces ever since, its matter reflecting the change in materials used by the company as they’ve introduced new ingredients and substituted others. The tiles have thus existed in situ for three decades as a historical record, but they have also materially changed from their original state, displaying the last thirty years of matter used and discarded at Heath Ceramics.
When, as researchers, we remarry archival documents with objects living in varied environments in order to create stories about people, how much do we consider how an object builds a history independent of its manufacturer and changes materially over time? How does this affect the stories we tell and the way they are reconstructed?
Within these questions, it feels fitting to consider the ceramic objects held in the Heath Collection of the EDA. These objects are closer, or less divorced, from the materials that can contextualize them, and can easily be reunited with documents in the EDA's collections. Strings could be pulled taut between the boxes of plates and tiles, and the cartons of brochures, correspondence, and Heath's writings, to make physical webs of stories. Together, these webs composed of the objects of Heath's career create the story of Edith Heath—her philosophies, her complexities, her own existence amongst her objects.
Since the start of working on contributions to the upcoming book, Edith Heath: Philosophies, I have seen how each author’s essay or visual history is a composition of these webs. Each piece displays a chain of resources from the Heath Collection of the EDA drawn out in writing, to create distinct stories of Edith Heath and the objects she created throughout her life. I recently had the chance to read through the index for the book, created by Curator of the EDA, Chris Marino, which in its own right contains new threads that can be pulled from one essay to another. These threads create a path for readers looking to research a myriad of topics: experimentation or functionality as concepts in design; Heath’s unpublished writings usually only accessible as a researcher at the EDA; the clay and glaze materials her objects were made from; and the individual objects she produced, situated in exhibitions like Textiles for You and Your Home and on the walls and floors of buildings across the country. The index of the book and the myriad of archival materials pictured inside can thus be used to create webs of new stories, or as Edith Heath would put it: the reader “gathers together - recombines - recycles -.”
Rosa Novak is a researcher for the Brian and Edith Heath Foundation and co-founder of the Oakland, California artist collective, Mutual Stores. She recently authored three essays and co-authored two visual histories for the upcoming publication, Edith Heath: Philosophies, the first in the Environmental Design Archives’ newly re-introduced Berkeley Design Books Series. Novak’s current research interests focus on the life and work of Edith Heath, the history of the ceramic materials of California, and the dichotomy between waste material and constructive material.
By Hannah Simonson
Any architectural historian will tell you that one of the great joys of the work (job, if you are fortunate enough for it to also be your paid profession) is sitting in an archive immersed with the photographs, drawings, and documents that are so many pieces of a story waiting to come to life. Archival research is an exercise in patience, diligence, and some chance. There is nothing like methodically combing through a folder you requested, only to accidentally happen upon another folder in the same box that reveals a yet-unrealized connection between buildings or architects. Or casually discussing your research with an archivist only to have them ask “have you checked this collection/file?”—you haven’t, but now you will and a whole new avenue of research is opened. These are joys that feel distant in the current moment when places like UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Archives have been (rightfully) closed to the public for months due to COVID-19.
However, just a few weeks ago, Waverly Lowell, the former curator of EDA, emailed Docomomo US/Northern California with a trove of suggestions after seeing that we had just launched an online map of 1970s sites and were preparing a virtual tour—it was the virtual equivalent of “have you checked this collection?” Even having seen several of these projects highlighted in the “The Legacy of Donald Olsen: Modern Master” exhibition in the Environmental Design Library in February, prior to shelter-in-place orders (February 2020 feels like years ago), I had forgotten to return to this source! As a result of the suggestion, we’re adding several incredible 1970s designs by Donald Olsen to our map—representing a lesser-known and celebrated period in his career—including a house for Peter Selz, the curator of Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive when it moved into the Brutalist Mario Ciampi-designed building on Durant Avenue, which playfully projects over the existing landscape and vegetation. The complex Loos-ian interior raumplan and stucco siding harken back to the International Style, while the shed roof and open interior spaces feel clearly of the Third Bay Tradition regional style.
Docomomo US is a non-profit organization that advocates for the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites, and landscapes of the Modern Movement, and as the current president of the local Northern California chapter, I—like many of our members—got involved with the organization because of my love of International Style, Brutalist, and Mid-Century Modern design along the lines of the Olsen’s personal Berkeley residence (still a favorite), but dismissed much of 70s architecture. However, this year as the 1970s turns 50 years old, we have been exploring the 1970s with fresh eyes and finding all kinds of strange delights and new appreciation.
During the COVID-19 era, the extensive EDA digital collections have been a boon to architectural historians and organizations like Docomomo US, as we continue to work from home and host virtual events. In June, Docomomo US/NOCA hosted a virtual tour of Modernism in San Francisco’s Chinatown, during which we shared perspective renderings and early photos of the Ping Yuen Housing Complex designed by John Savage Bolles from the EDA collection.
We are now preparing for a virtual tour of 1970s sites across Northern California, highlighting buildings such as UC Santa Cruz’s Kresge College, which was designed by Charles Moore and William Turnbull of Sea Ranch fame. A delightful color pencil drawing from the Turnbull Collection captures the colorful spirit of the time, and the casual atmosphere of an Italian village-style design set in the redwood forest.
It has been a true pleasure to work with the folks at EDA, including current curator, Chris Marino, and research archivist, Katie Riddle, on these and other projects for work as well as personal projects. I was first introduced to EDA while beginning with my master’s thesis research on the Diamond Heights Redevelopment Area several years ago. I first visited the archive to dig through the extensive Oakland & Imada Collection as Claude Oakland had been the design architect for the tract of homes in Diamond Heights developed by Joseph Eichler. However, I quickly realized—thanks to my conversations with Chris—that Diamond Heights was represented across numerous other collections in the archive, including unrealized competition projects, custom-designed single-family homes, and landscape site plans.
In the DeMars Collection, I found photographs of a scale model of the Diamond Heights Master Plan by Vernon DeMars for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, illustrating the principals of siting, setback, zoning, street design, and use of multiple housing typologies that DeMars had clearly been researching in other examples based on the written records.
Photographs and floor plan diagrams from the Oakland & Imada Collection illustrate the ways that Oakland blended classic Eichler Homes features such as post and beam construction, entry courtyards and atria, simple materials, and open floor plans, with new approaches to siting and massing to address the unique conditions of Diamond Heights. Whereas typical Eichler tracts were mostly large, flat regraded sites for detached, low-slung single-family homes, the Diamond Heights tract features steep hilly topography and narrow lots. To address the site constraints and privacy concerns, Oakland designed several different models including multi-story attached rowhouses. The taller rowhouses sit above garages on the uphill side of the street with front balconies over-looking the stepped two-story homes across the street and into the semi-wilderness of Glen Canyon. Without the same amount of space for a traditional backyard, views, balconies, and small front courtyards, become essential to creating the quintessential Eichler indoor-outdoor living.
A favorite inadvertent discovery was a massive scroll with a color pencil drawing of a proposed multi-family project for Fairmount Hill in Diamond Heights by Charles Warren Callister which featured a distinctive roof shape that immediately called to mind the unusual eyebrow dormers on a built custom single-family home down the street by Callister. I was honored to be able to share these and other EDA archive discoveries in an in-person Gallery Talk back in February and in my 2017 The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture master’s thesis, “Modern Diamond Heights: Dwell-ification and the Challenges of Preserving Modernist, Redevelopment Resources in Diamond Heights, San Francisco.”
As many times as I’ve visited EDA for research on Diamond Heights, I know there is more to discover in the collection—things I’ve missed or things that will have new meaning when viewed in new circumstances, and because the collection is always growing! I was thrilled to hear in February that EDA had acquired the archival materials of B. Clyde Cohen, who’s firm Cohen & Levorsen won the Red Rock Hill Design Competition to build the cornerstone multi-family project in Diamond Heights and designed on of my personal favorite single-family homes in the neighborhood, and Modernist home with a hexagonal motif and organic Wrightian-influences. These newly acquired materials are something to look forward to at a time when the archives can be safely reopened to the public and are a reminder that new avenues of research await.
Hannah Lise Simonson is an Architectural Historian/Cultural Resources Planner at the firm Page & Turnbull. She received a Master of Science in Historic Preservation at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, where she wrote her thesis on Diamond Heights. She currently serves as the President of the Northern California Chapter of Docomomo US, and gives walking tours of Diamond Heights as a member of the non-profit, Glen Parks Neighborhood History Project.
By Professor Andrew Shanken
As most Americans settled into the realization that the virus was real and we slowly found ourselves living on islands, archives, museums, and historical societies shut their doors and began to contemplate cultural distancing. On the one hand, unknowingly they had been preparing for this moment for years by digitizing holdings and creating increasingly dynamic virtual portals for a virtual public. On the other hand, the virtual archive or museum was most often understood rather like an avatar is to a human: a radically simplified representation of the real thing. The virtual collection is an amuse-bouche for the would-be visitor or researcher, or, more nobly, a partial democratization of access, but most historians insist on seeing the artifacts, and with good reason. Many original images are really three-dimensional. To a much greater extent their digital scans, they betray the process of their making and use through underpainting, notes, and sketches on the verso, and the evidence of handling, much of which is lost in digital renderings. For instance, for a book on the 1939 San Francisco world's fair, part of the E.D. Archives series, I found dozens of pinholes in some drawings by Bernard Maybeck, none in others. He had pinned them up repeatedly, either to discuss them or to rework them or both. He often used both sides and would jot down notes that became indispensable in dating them and creating a chronology of the development of his ideas.
The pandemic caught me at the tail end of another book, The Everyday Life of Memorials. Just as I needed to wrap up vital research questions and acquire images and permissions to use them, the institutions I rely on for my research were closing. Not only would I have to forego pinpricks, but basic access to images seemed unlikely. No matter, digitized collections and blessedly enlightened views of the public domain came to the rescue. The Louvre has hi-res images of innumerable paintings waiting for scholarly use. A gorgeous scan of Jacques-Louis David's "Death of Marat" was there for the taking. Umberto Boccioni’s “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" came courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The British Museum offered up a scan of an engraving of 1753 for Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard,” an early Gothic Revival gem. The Library of Congress proved a treasure trove of public domain images. With some creative maneuvering and a little rewriting, I was able to use their online visual collections extensively. All of these images came without the need for permission requests and they were free. Each one felt like winning a lottery ticket.
But my quest for about a dozen other images ran aground. Simple questions that archivists can answer immediately lingered for weeks; many went unanswered because many archives were down for the count. With some reluctance, I sheepishly turned to the hive mind. This is not my proudest moment as a researcher. Like many people, I have grave misgivings about the way Facebook uses personal information and has interjected itself into politics. I have vacillated between absenting myself and using it to make sense of the turn of affairs since 2016. But a good researcher should leave no stone unturned, even one he wishes Mark Zuckerberg would crawl back under. My first shout into the mist on May 23: "Anyone have a high res image of the Defenders of the Russian Land Monument in Moscow? I need it for a publication and would be happy to give you photo credits. No chance I get to Moscow anytime soon...." An answer came immediately from an old acquaintance: look at Russian Google and try Памятник защитнику земли российской. Bingo. I found a public domain image immediately. I didn't even know that a Russian Google existed. But of course, it does!
It worked so well that I tried again on May 30: "Anyone live near McAllen, Texas, or have a friend who does? I'm trying to get photographs of a war memorial there, which includes this lovely specimen of GW," and I attached the best image I could find from the web. Again, instant success brought offers from friends of friends to take photographs for me. I'll be publishing this one by a 13-year old aspiring photographer.
My third attempt was apparently more obscure than Moscow or McAllen: "Apologies in advance for going too often to the Facebook well! Anyone have a friend in Warren, Ohio? I need eyes on the Every Woman Memorial in Women’s Park. It's a research question...Thx!" I didn't need a photograph this time, but rather a confirmation of an inscription: “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” Virginia Woolf wrote this resolute rejection of patriotism in 1938 in the context of the rise of Fascism, with World War II clearly on the horizon. This would have made the memorial a curious rejoinder to Warren’s male soldier memorials in an adjacent park. Alas, there are not six degrees of separation between me and anyone in Warren. That or Facebook's algorithm is conspiring against me.
The search for this and other images and information continues. With no clear end to the pandemic, I have some difficult decisions to make. Some images may be cut, text will be altered, the character of the book changed in numerous small ways. Paper trails have always run dry and archives have always had limitations. Technophiles sometimes say that eventually, everything will be available online. This attitude recalls Borges's lampoon of "a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point." This adventure in cultural distancing, for all of its triumphs, only strengthens my belief that poring over materials in archival collections is indispensable and will never be supplanted by the web.
Andy Shanken is an architectural and urban historian with an interest in how cultural constructions of memory shape the built environment (and vice versa). He is a Board Member in American Studies, Faculty Curator of the Environmental Design Archives, on the Faculty Advisory Committee at the Townsend Center for the Humanities and the Global Urban Humanities. He has a joint appointment in American Studies.
By Nicole Krup Oest
The Environmental Design Archives is home to a fascinating collection of color slides by one of the history of modern architecture’s most underappreciated photographers: Catherine Bauer. Known for her integral role in garnering support for the bill that became the Housing Act of 1937 and for her ensuing lifelong career as a public housing researcher and consultant, Bauer easily counts as one of the most important women to have taught at Berkeley. The University’s celebration of 150 Years of Berkeley Women presents an excellent opportunity to bring the importance of photography in Catherine Bauer’s housing work to light.
I first began thinking about Catherine Bauer as a photographer in 2014 after visiting the Bancroft Library to study her files on public housing in Los Angeles in the 1940s. A tireless researcher, Bauer had collected file upon file of photographic prints, newspaper clippings, and pamphlets on public housing around the world. What stood out to me, however, were letters in which she wrote about taking her own photographs with Kodak’s 35-millimeter color slide film, Kodachrome.
Across campus at the Environmental Design Archives, curator Chris Marino pulled the slides in the William and Catherine Bauer Wurster Papers. I turned page after page of Kodachrome slides neatly prepared for viewing in cardboard mounts, labeled in Bauer’s hand, and accompanied by a handy index divided into columns that Bauer labeled “Buildings, country, etc.” and “Personal” (Fig. 1). I saw new views of famous wartime housing projects like architect William Wurster’s Carquinez Heights at Vallejo (Fig. 2) and Richard Neutra’s Channel Heights at San Pedro (Fig. 3). I also saw a photograph of Bauer, herself, captured with her camera in hand as she strides through a field outside a Farm Security Administration camp (Fig. 4).
On the surface, the collection might seem commonplace—an organized researcher’s tool made for use in her public speaking and teaching of public housing. But the significance of Bauer’s collection is multifold. These photographs offer rare images of housing from the 1930s through the 1950s in color. Looking back at the first outlines of my project, I had not planned to write about color photographs of housing, much less color slides in a collection that, for a long time, remained one of the most important visual resources in the field. On another level, the Kodachrome slides offer a privileged view of the role of visual media in Bauer’s teaching of housing. They invite a look away from the photographs commissioned by architects or magazines and towards images made for non-commercial purposes.
From the indexing, to the labeling of the Ready-Mounts, to her lecture notes at the Bancroft—Bauer’s files lend clues to the pedagogy of the past while simultaneously holding a mirror to the digital tools of the present. How does one present modern housing in the classroom? In working with the Environmental Design Archives on the online exhibition of Catherine Bauer’s photographs, I found myself facing a variation on this question. Should we scan only the images to better approximate what Bauer’s audiences would have seen on the screen when she presented her slides? Or should we photograph the slides in the marked cardboard mounts on a light table, as Bauer and her students might have viewed them before placing them under a loupe or in a slide viewer?
Finally, Bauer’s collection offers material for future research on the creative contributions of women to the history of housing and photography—especially women who never proclaimed themselves photographers the way their celebrated contemporaries like Roger Sturtevant and Julius Shulman did. This research promises to destabilize the murky categories of “applied photography” and “amateur photography” and urge historians to look closer at not only what these photographs show, but how they show it.
Seeing modern architecture in color in Catherine Bauer’s Kodachrome slide collection compelled me to plan a new subarea of my research that received an additional grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation. The slides now form the centerpiece of a chapter in my book, Photography and Modern Public Housing in Los Angeles, forthcoming from the German publisher, arthistoricum. Conceived in the spirit of Catherine Bauer’s commitment to students of housing and urban planning, the Environmental Design Archives’ online exhibition is the first dedicated to understanding Bauer’s photographs as unique objects of study and dynamic components of her housing work.
Nicole Krup Oest is a historian of art and photography and an instructor at City College of San Francisco. Her current research focuses on the photographs of the designer and art historian, Esther Lewittes Mipaas.
Check out our new online exhibition Catherine Bauer and the Photography of Modern Housing: http://exhibits.ced.berkeley.edu/exhibits/show/cbw-exhibit
Exactly a year ago this week, the Environmental Design Archives successfully exceeded our fundraising goal that enabled Edith Heath: Philosophies, the eighth book in the Berkeley Design Books Series. This month we are working intently on editing the third design draft. We are incredibly proud of the book, which many of you enabled us to create through your generous donations, and we can’t wait to share this project with you.
On shelves this Fall, the book is 320 pages. Heavily illustrated with more than 300 images, the book showcases the wealth of the Brian and Edith Heath/Heath Ceramics Collection and the spectacular research it has enabled—featuring a forward, preface, introduction, dynamic timeline, thirteen essays, epilogue, and detailed product and dinnerware glaze history. Thematically organized, Edith Heath: Philosophies emphasizes less-known narratives and utilizes rarely seen images.
Essay topics range from Edith’s creative collaborations, her educational background in art education and ceramic chemistry, architectural tile, the philosophical foundations and influences of one of the most significant creative forces in post-WWII America, and much more.
Check out, below, the Table of Contents, Forward, and one essay by JC Miller entitled “Making a Place for Art: Collaboration between Edith Heath and Robert Royston.” The book is still a work in progress—but we wanted to share a sneak peek with all of you. Click on the images below to see the full spreads of the book. Enjoy!
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