HEATH CERAMICS: THE COMPLEXITY OF SIMPLICITY

It’s no secret that we at Alabama Chanin have long been admirers of Heath Ceramics—their work, their approach to responsible manufacturing, and their embrace of beautiful, sustainable design sets them apart from so many companies today. We have also been honored (and excited) to collaborate with them on several projects, including a line of dinnerware, the MAKESHIFT conversations, and most recently, two clocks designed to celebrate the 10 year ownership of the company by friends Cathy Bailey and Robin Petrovic.

Edith Heath originally founded Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California, in 1948. She was an accomplished ceramist who cared deeply for the craft and believed in the importance of using quality materials. She grew up in rural Iowa during the Great Depression, which made her a natural conservator. In the late 1930s she worked with Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which influenced her design aesthetic. Heath searched constantly to source the right materials and experimented for years to find the best techniques and glazes; she was once quoted as saying that she wanted to use clay that had “character” and “guts”.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HEATH CERAMICS: THE COMPLEXITY OF SIMPLICITY

Edith’s attempts to adapt her hand-thrown techniques using industrial production methods were met with controversy. She was told that machine-produced items didn’t qualify as “craft,” which prompted her to respond, “The machine doesn’t decide what the shape is going to be; a human being has to decide that… Just because you make it by hand doesn’t make it good, or a work of art.”

Edith Heath owned and ran Heath Ceramics well into her 80s; she sold the company to Cathy and Robin in 2004. They share Edith Heath’s desire to make beautiful, functional products that can be used every day, and want to ensure that craft is respected and advanced, that classic skills and techniques are not lost. Cathy and Robin believe, as we do at Alabama Chanin, that customers want to know how, where, and by whom their products are made. They want to create a relationship between product and consumer that discourages planned obsolescence, which means focusing on good design, durability, and quality that lasts.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HEATH CERAMICS: THE COMPLEXITY OF SIMPLICITY

Heath Ceramics and Alabama Chanin share a commitment to community. Just as we have determined that our products will be created in our local community by skilled artisans, Heath believes that a community focus is an integral part of their mission for building a strong workforce and a healthy environment. The most efficient way to know that products are healthy and produced in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner is to oversee manufacturing yourself.

Cathy and Robin continue to look for ways to increase sustainability and reduce negative environmental impact in their work. They have implemented extensive reuse and recycling programs—establishing a gray-water system to reclaim water used in their production processes, and salvaging glaze and scrap, unfired clay, meaning that all of their products contain recycled materials.

Alabama Chanin’s collaboration with Heath Ceramics was an intensive design process that integrated our techniques and values with theirs. Each piece in our dinnerware collaboration is made by hand. Designs are etched into clay by a talented artisan; for each piece, a white glaze is applied on top of a base coat of blue, gray, or red and an artist then scratches the design through that top layer, which exposes the base color. They do not use stencils; rather, the individual artist recreates the original design, freehand. Like with our hand-stitched garments, each maker leaves their own mark on the finished product.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HEATH CERAMICS: THE COMPLEXITY OF SIMPLICITY

Over 60 years after its founding, Heath Ceramics continues to produce classic, design-based products in an ethical and responsible environment. Their products are a lasting example of classic, mid-century design. Heath’s philosophies and production methods are an example of healthy, sustainable design at work in a modern world. Heath Ceramics: The Complexity of Simplicity by Amos Klausner (available in The Factory and our online store) explores the people behind the company and the history of Heath Ceramics, the company’s present day goals, with an eye to the future.

At present, we are preparing to launch a new Alabama Chanin + Heath Ceramics collaboration. On July 24, we will debut the collection at the Heath Ceramics new Boiler Room event space (and the pieces will also be available through our online store). The event will also serve as the opening of the Alabama on Alabama exhibit at the Boiler Room—with works by Natalie and Alabama Chanin, Butch Anthony, outsider artist John Henry Toney, and frequent collaborator Rinne Allen.

The month-long event will also include a pop-up store featuring hand-dyed Indigo garments, one-of-a-kind quilts, special home pieces, and the new Alabama Chanin + Heath Ceramics collection. The show and store are open July 24 – August 23.

5 comments on “HEATH CERAMICS: THE COMPLEXITY OF SIMPLICITY

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  1. neucarol

    I chose Heath for my bridal registry in1963 and still love and use today.
    Am so delighted to see the Alabama Chanin collaboration with Heath, a truly inspired combination. Can’t wait to get my hands on the new ceramics–gotta touch, feel–just like with fiber.

    Reply
  2. Brian Bostron

    I have worked with Heath ceramic tile in my interior design business and possess some of their bathroom accessories which were a gift from the local Waterworks showroom. They have a look and quality that sets them apart from everyone else. Your collaboration seems like a natural fit. Looking forward to seeing their new creations.

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    1. Nancy Wilson

      Is there a catalog for Heath Ceramics and tiles?.. I want to tile a backsplash in my kitchen.

      Growing up Mom had 2 kilns, firing her porcelains & ceramics. I am 77 yrs. old.

      Reply