Like most people, I use an assortment of mass-produced products everyday, from the clothes I wear to the computer I’m typing on to write this article. While many of those goods function well and are aesthetically pleasing, they don’t feel as special as bespoke products or those made in limited runs by skilled craftspeople.
That’s why I’ve long admired the vases, plates, bowls, cups and tiles manufactured by Heath Ceramics, the Sausalito, CA based company founded by Edith and Brian Heath in 1948. They exude a personality all their own and stand out from the vast majority of mass produced stoneware by virtue of their clean, unadorned design, beautiful glazes and expert craftsmanship.
Even if you have never heard of Heath Ceramics you’ve likely seen one of their products. That’s because the distinctive façade of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena is comprised of 115,000 tiles designed by Edith Heath (1911-2005) and represents one of her best-known commissions.
While I enjoy browsing in the Heath showroom and studio on Beverly Boulevard and wrote a blog post about the company back in 2011, I have long wanted to take a tour of the company’s original Sausalito factory. This past weekend I had the opportunity to do just that.
Although the factory is not operational on Saturday and Sundays, the one-hour tour provided an excellent overview of the production process for the company’s non-tile ceramic products (all the tile is made in the San Francisco factory). I learned that Heath prepares two kinds of clay for its stoneware, one sourced from the Sacramento area and the other from various locations worldwide. I also learned that plates are formed one at a time on a jigger machine and slip casting (pouring liquid clay into molds made on site) is used to create more complicated and hollow forms, such as cups and pitchers.
Understanding the multi-step process behind Heath’s elegantly simple designs made me appreciate the ingenuity of the manufacturing process. It also made me realize just how many pairs of hands touch each piece as it’s transformed from raw clay to a beautifully glazed object. You definitely pay a premium for this craftsmanship, but for those who are drawn to well made, functional objects that are as satisfying to look at as they are to use, it’s well worth the price.
The people behind the Heath story are as interesting as the company’s production techniques. Before Edith Heath passed away at age 94, she sold the business to husband and wife team Catherine Bailey and Robin Petravic, who have rejuvenated and grown the business. According to the company’s web site, “Catherine sets the direction and creative vision as Creative Director, [while] Robin manages all operations, manufacturing and business development as Managing Director.”
Although the Heath family no longer owns the business, Edith Heath’s niece, Winifred Crittenden (a master glazer), and nephew, Russell Crittenden (a master die and mold maker), have worked in the factory since the 1970s and carry on their aunt’s legacy. A number of other employees have also been with the company for many years.
If this post has piqued your interest in Heath Ceramics (and I hope it has!), this is the perfect time of year to stop by their Los Angeles studio showroom and check out their wares. That’s because November 20-23 is the Heath Open Studio & Sale, which will give you the opportunity to see firsthand the wide range of stoneware that’s made Heath famous, as well as an assortment of other beautiful items featured in their stores. But best of all – enjoy 20% off all in-store purchases while the sale is on.
Here are the details:
What: Heath Open Studio & Sale
When: November 20-23, 2015
Where: 7525 Beverly Boulevard (between Sierra Bonita & Gardner) Los Angeles, CA 90036
More Information: Visit the Heath Ceramics web site.