Which Came First? Deciphering the development of Heath dinnerware design from the archival record

Jay Stewart and Jessie Durant

The Heath archives, which were donated to the Environmental Design Archives (EDA) at UC Berkeley in 2011, are a rich record of the history of Heath Ceramics and the lives of Brian and Edith Heath.

In October 2011 Jessie Durant began processing (sorting, organizing, and archivally housing) the collection and Jay Stewart assisted for several days in November 2011 and April 2012.

While going through the records, we found an intriguing note on a label written by Edith: “1946 Gift Show—Met N.S. Gustin at this show”.

One short-term goal, while processing the collection, is to create a chronology of significant events in the history of Heath Ceramics and this note piqued our curiosity. The N.S. Gustin Co. distributed Heathware for many years but, until now, we had no indication of how and when that relationship began. Another document found within the collection suggests that the gift show Edith mentions was 10 California Craftsmen, a post-war exhibition at the Merchandise Mart in San Francisco.

In April 2012 we discovered an N.S. Gustin Co. brochure dated 1947 (the date is penciled in Edith’s hand).

This is the earliest Heath Ceramics promotional material by the N.S. Gustin Co. that has been located.  In 1947 many design elements were refined—the teapot handle, the creamer and sugar bowl, the salt and pepper shakers and the design of the knob on the lids of the casseroles, as well as the tab handles on the bottom.

The transition from the tab handle on the casseroles to the current style probably occurred in 1947 because the “new” casserole was featured in a 1947 exhibition “Useful Objects for the Home” at the Akron Art Institute (Heathware on the left in photo).

The Gustin Company also distributed the iconic Heath ashtrays, this brochure (n.d.) shows the myriad of glazes available and is juxtaposed with a photo taken at EDA of a set of three ashtrays (c. 1950/60s) in front of their new home, an archival acid-free box and an archival document box with archival folders containing historic photographs, including this marketing photograph of the Heath ashtray.

As we continue to sort and arrange the documents, clippings, and photographs we find links and make connections amid these fragments to reveal the story of Brian and Edith Heath and the evolution of Heath Ceramics.

Jay Stewart is the trustee of the Brian & Edith Heath Foundation.

Jessie Durant is a processing archivist at the Environmental Design Archives. Prior to working on the Heath Archives she processed the Robert Marquis Collection. In 1958-59 Marquis and his partner Claude Stoller were the architects who worked with Edith on the design of the Heath factory in Sausalito.

All images from the Brian and Edith Heath Collection courtesy of the Environmental Design Archives © 2012