Edith Heath

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Edith Heath
founded her own busi­ness in the 1940s and for 60 years she was the driving force at Heath Ceramics. Her dinner­ware combines a craft-based heritage with modern lines in a way that has been prized by many, including Frank Lloyd Wright who spec­i­fied Heath ceramics as the dinner­ware of choice for his projects.

The second of seven chil­dren in the Kiertzner family, Edith grew up on an Iowa farm. In 1931 she enrolled at the Chicago Normal School (later renamed Chicago Teachers College), where students were required to study art educa­tion. Heath excelled in this subject area and after grad­u­ating, enrolled part-time at the Art Insti­tute of Chicago, taking classes in the morning and teaching in the after­noon. An invi­ta­tion to work at a Federal Art Project (FAP) training school led to Heath’s acquain­tance with the ideas of leading artists, including Bauhaus designer László Moholy-Nagy. It was also during this program that she met her husband, Brian Heath.

In 1941, Brian Heath became regional director for the Amer­ican Red Cross and the couple moved to San Fran­cisco. On the drive to the West Coast, they stopped in New Mexico, where Edith Heath would make an impor­tant discovery. The work of one of the most influ­en­tial Native Amer­ican potters – Maria Martinez – capti­vated Heath and she knew at that moment that ceramics was the work she wanted to pursue.

In San Fran­cisco, Heath taught art at the Presidio Hill School while auditing classes at the Cali­fornia School of Fine Arts (later renamed San Fran­cisco Art Insti­tute). Access to pottery wheels was limited, so she and Brian converted a treadle-powered sewing machine into a wheel. Soon after, Heath success­fully peti­tioned Univer­sity of Cali­fornia, Berkeley to host a class on ceramic chem­istry, which began her life­long exper­i­men­ta­tion with clay and glaze. Working with a kiln in her base­ment, Heath became an expert in how different clay types affected aesthetic qual­i­ties of her wares. Her mastery of this science combined with her modern sensi­bil­i­ties for propor­tion and form, made Heath a master ceramist.

In 1944, The Cali­fornia Palace of the Legion of Honor hosted a one-woman show of Heath’s work. This exhibit led to a meeting with a buyer for Gump’s and Heath was soon making dinner­ware sets for the San Fran­cisco retailer. Two years later, Heath was one of ten artists invited to exhibit her work at the San Fran­cisco Gift Show, where she met Nelson Gustin, who offered to repre­sent her work nation­wide and guar­antee to purchase a year’s output. Heath Ceramics was born.

In 1947, Edith and Brian purchased the space in Sausalito, Cali­fornia where Heath Ceramics is still located today. Oper­ated by new owners Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey since 2003, Heath Ceramics is one of the few mid-century Amer­ican potteries still in exis­tence.