Celebrating the centennial of the birth of Edith Heath – 1911

In 2011 the Brian & Edith Heath Archives were donated to the Environmental Design Archives at the University of California at Berkeley to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Edith Heath (May 25th 1911).  The Heath Collection is an extraordinary record of the lives of Brian and Edith and the history of Heath Ceramics.

The collection contains Edith’s artworks and other personal papers, sample boards of early tile types, architectural records, business records, advertising materials and photographs.  The monthly brochure from the Palace of the Legion of Honor, dated September 1944,  features the one-woman show that was pivotal in Edith’s career.

“Ceramics by Edith Kiertzner Heath   Opening September 1”
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, exhibition announcement September 1944

At this exhibition Edith’s hand-built and hand-thrown dinnerware came to the attention of Gump’s, an exclusive San Francisco Department Store.  Shortly thereafter Gump’s invited Edith to move her production to their pottery studio on Clay Street in San Francisco.   Correspondence and photographs relating to this time period are in the Heath archives.

Hand built pitcher and mugs; ca. 1944.
Edith rolled slabs of clay on textured fabrics to achieve the texture; a pitcher similar to this is in the Heath Collection.

Between 1944 and 1947 Heath production evolved from hand thrown dinnerware to slip cast and jiggered ware.

N.S. Gustin brochure, ca. mid 1940s

Edith continued to design on her potter’s wheel and to throw prototypes, a few of which are in the Heath Collection of historic ware.  Details of the early history of Heath Ceramics are “buried” in the archival collection and we look forward to developing a detailed chronology of the company.  Among hundreds of photographs and 35mm slides are many familiar iconic images; many more remain to be uncovered.

In 1947 Heathware was featured in the exhibition “Useful Objects for the Home” mounted by the Akron Art Institute.

“Useful objects for the Home” exhibition at the Akron Art Institute, 1947
Heath Ceramics display first from left

Waverly Lowell, Curator of the Environmental Design Archives comments:

“This is a wonderful collection of both artistic and historic value. The Heaths and Heath Ceramics played a significant role in the aesthetic and cultural life of mid-twentieth century California.  Their deep connection with architects and architectural design is why this collection is a welcome addition that enhances the mission and research potentials of the Environmental Design Archives.”

Catherine Bailey, creative director of Heath Ceramics, adds:

“We are so thankful to have these archives as part of our story moving forward. And we’re grateful that these historic images are being preserved so that they may be highlighted and shared in the future.”

The collection is being preserved, archivally processed and catalogued, which is estimated to take two years.  When the work is completed the collection will be open for research and a Finding Aid will be available on the Online Archive of California. The first phase, supported by a grant from the Brian & Edith Heath Foundation, will consist of a detailed survey of this large collection.

Donations to support this project are welcome; for information please contact Jay Stewart at HeathFdn@telus.net.

All photographs courtesy of the Brian & Edith Heath Collection/Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley