The magazine of material culture

Issue Snapshot: Heath Ceramics

Text by Katherine McBride | Images by Ariel Soto-Suver 

For our premiere issue, Atlas visited Heath Ceramics to document the production practices of this noteworthy studio. Heath Ceramics has been an innovator and legacy in American craft since Edith Heath first began the pottery company in 1948. Heath’s simple pieces, glazed in matte neutrals, focus on utility and quality. They have a smooth buttery appeal, as though they might still be soft clay, and immediately beckon fingers to be run across them. The colors feel culled from natural Californian elements; glazes in chocolaty browns, beige earth tones, and cerulean blues. Edith Heath’s pioneer line of serving-ware, plates, platters and mugs, is still in production. 

Honoring Edith Heath’s legacy, Health Ceramics maintains the emphasis on function, accessibility and the uncomplicated, clean lines that Edith introduced in the forties. Their brown clay is still mined in Ione, California, a location Edith Heath chose in 1947. All manufacturing takes place in California, in small batches at a modest factory in the quiet town of Sausalito, as well as in their recently acquired space in San Francisco’s Mission district. This spacious new building, in the former home of Mission Linens, contains both a studio, shop and event space. 

Edith Heath’s goal was to create attractive and utilitarian pieces that were accessible to the general population, in line with a Bauhaus philosophy and modernist aesthetic. This emphasis on producing artisan products for real people continues; Heath Ceramic’s pieces are sumptuous without being precious. Edith Heath considered frugality important, and created and designed her products to last. The pottery and tiles are only fired once at an unusually low temperature in kilns custom built by Edith’s husband, Brian Heath, in the 1950s. This energy-saving process makes the pottery sturdier, and thereby long-lasting. Health Ceramics is also keen on recycling; they reuse clay scraps and water, as well as brown-paper packaging to ship their pottery. 

Heath Ceramics is now owned by Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey, who took over the company about a decade ago. "Heath is always evolving," says co-owner Cathy Bailey. "We like to think beyond just what we're doing." The new glazes that reframe classic pieces pop in electrifying royal blues, cantaloupe corals, hazel coppers, and alpine greens. Other new pieces decorated with delicate graduated ombré tones that fade from a creamy white into a cloudy azure. And the timeless neutrals remain, muted silvers, leaden and heathery, dusty chestnuts, and milky oatmeals. Petravic and Bailey have continued to stay true to the tradition of Heath Ceramics. While they make small changes to maintain the company's pertinence and keep their production modern, Edith Heath’s influence endures, paving the way to a future grounded in principles past.