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Heath (Brian & Edith)/Heath Ceramics Collection
2011-1  
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Collection Overview
 
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Description
Documents the Heath's personal lives and the progression of Heath Ceramics. The collection consists of nine series: Personal Papers, Professional Papers, Office Records, Project Records, N.S. Gustin, Ione Factory, Tahlequah Factory, Art and Artifacts, and Additional Donations. Included in these series are correspondence, art work, photographs, slides, drawings, production records, and samples of tile and stoneware.
Background
Edith [Kiertzner] Heath was born on May 25, 1911 (official birth certificate date, alternative date is May 24, 1911) in the farming community of Ida Grove, Iowa the second of seven children born to Danish immigrants. Early in life Edith often took on a mothering role with her siblings, a theme that would continue throughout her life and laid the foundation for her decision to become a teacher. Brian was born in October 6, 1913 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. At the age of 20, Edith began taking classes at the Chicago Teachers College from 1931-1934. While in school, she lived in the Howell Neighborhood Settlement House where she taught for room and board. Upon graduating she worked for the WPA’s Federal Art Project, teaching art in the settlement houses around Chicago. Edith simultaneously enrolled part-time at the Chicago Art Institute (1934-1940) taking classes that inspired her love of art, especially working with clay. In 1938, while working for the Federal Art Project at a summer camp in Batavia, Illinois Edith met Brian; he was employed as a social worker for the Red Cross. The pair married later that year. In 1941 the couple moved to California, settling in San Francisco. Edith taught children’s art classes at the Presidio Hill School while taking courses at the San Francisco Art Institute and studying ceramic chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley Extension. It was here she began developing the deep understanding of raw materials that prompted her to experiment with clay and glaze formulas throughout her career. At the beginning, Edith and Brian would drive to different clay pits to gather materials that she would experiment with in the kitchen of their Julia Morgan designed San Francisco apartment. A chance meeting with the acting director of the San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor at a San Francisco gallery led to Edith’s first solo show Ceramics in 1944. It was this exhibit at the “Legion” that attracted attention from Gump’s, a San Francisco department store. A store with exclusive clientele, Edith was offered space in their ceramics studio to create handmade pieces fro them to sell. In 1946 Brian and Edith with Eral and Kenny Leek bought a barge, the Dorthea, had it docked at the Sausalito shipyard, and designed and built living spaces on it. Three years later they moved it to Paradise Drive on the shores of Tiburon where Edith, in collaboration with landscape architect. Robert Royston, designed the outdoor living spaces. This houseboat attracted much attention in the local and design community. Eventually, the Heaths bought out the Leeks and developed the property to include the barge, gardens, tennis court and tennis house. Once in Sausalito they expanded their business and ramped up production with the introduction of the jigger wheel. Brian and Edith worked together to run Heath Ceramics and turned it into an internationally known brand with a reputation for creating high-quality, durable, modern dinnerware and architectural tile. Their work and personal lives were tightly intertwined with much of their time devoted to running the business. Edith had no desire to retire and Brian would not retire without her. In 1985 they moved to a condominium and sold the Paradise Drive property in 2001. They continued to participate in the company late into life. Brian died on June 24, 2001. The company was sold in 2003 and Edith died in 2005.Edith Heath and her husband, Brian started Heath Ceramics in 1944. That year production began in a San Francisco ceramics studio owned by Gump’s department store. This came about as a result of Gump’s personnel seeing Edith’s show at the Palace of the Legion of Honor and recognizing the uniqueness and quality of her ceramic designs. Edith had a strong vision for the modern dinnerware the company would produce and took charge of design and production, while Brian managed the business. They took pride and care with the clay and glaze materials to create a strong, durable, and attractive product in a an economically and environmentally sustainable manner. In the beginning, items were hand-thrown on the wheel, but Brian developed a mechanical jigger and plaster molds that mechanized production and allowed for the expansion of production. In 1945, Brian found a larg loft workspace in Sausalito to meet the Heath’s needs for their expanding ceramic operations. As staff and orders increased in volume more space was required quickly. They purchased land on Gate Five Road in Sausalito and set about designing the ideal factory space. Edith helped design the groundbreaking factory in collaboration with the architecture firm of Marquis & Stoller. She had very specific ideas about what she wanted to make the building an efficient workspace. The landscape was designed in collaboration with Robert Royston. Completed in 1959, the factory continues to operate as the main site of production. Edith often spent long hours working in the factory, perfecting her clay and glaze formulas and designs. Drawing inspiration from her raw materials, she let the clay and the glazes work together to make the pieces that are the face of her legacy. For the first five years Heath produced twelve core pieces: a six piece place setting, two serving bowls, creamer and sugar, salt and pepper, and a platter. They later added the teapot and the ashtray as well as casseroles in five sizes. Over time Edith developed innovative pieces and lines to add to the collection based on her creative whims and market demands. Among the most popular are the Coupe, Sausalito and Rim lines. She also produced a line of sushi ware, a buffet service, and a line for Wedgwood, in addition to requests for custom pieces. The iconic Heath ashtray came out of Brian’s desire to have an ashtray that would hold his lit cigarette while on the phone. He found a bowl before it was fired and cut the V-shaped notches into the edge. The Seattle fire marshal dubbed these “safety” ashtrays and required every public building to have one. People gave the ashtrays as hostess gifts and wedding presents, and it was widely used in publicity photographs for architects and design magazine spreads. By 1958 Heath Ceramics began experimenting with architectural tiles achieving the same quality, durability and style as the dinnerware. The unique and custom sizes, shapes, colors and versatility of her tiles made them the top choice for architects throughout the country. Whenever possible Edith got involved working closely with designers and architects in the application of the tile to specific projects. The utilization of Heath tile on the Norton Simon Museum (formerly the Pasadena Art Museum) illustrates this collaborative model and won Edith the AIA Industrial Arts Medal in 1971. In the 1980s Heath Ceramics expanded their tile production to a plant in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Under the management of her sister Anna Jane, Edith intended the plant to be the center of tile production while providing much-needed jobs in the area. Unfortunately this venture did not last due in part to the distance and the plant closed in 1989. However, Edith continued to explore the world of architectural tile and ways to use ceramic extrusions in the built environment. Edith also experimented with extruded tiles in an attempt to develop a viable alternative to building with wood. She purchased land in Ione, California in 1995 with the intention of making it the site of production of extruded tile. However, this never came to fruition and the property was sold in 2001. Throughout the years they collaborated with various artists, architects, companies and designers to produce a range of special edition dinnerware sets and tile installations. Heath dinnerware and tile can be found in restaurants, residential and commercial buildings, and cultural institutions worldwide. As his health declined, Brian’s participation in Heath Ceramics dwindled. Edith continued to play a large role in the company until it was sold in 2003 to Robin Petravic and Cathy Bailey.
Extent
57 Cubic Feet 17 cartons, 11 document boxes, 1 “shoe” box, 2 photo boxes, 1 CD box, 5 small flat boxes, 5 medium flat boxes, 2 large flat boxes, 6 artifact boxes, 5 flat file drawers.
Restrictions
All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from materials in the collection should be discussed with the Curator.
Availability
Collection is open for research.