Our seven-year long collaboration with Heath Ceramics began in 2011 with hand-etched dinnerware ceramics. Founded in 1948 by Edith Heath, Heath Ceramics is run by Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic, who both have a deep background in design.
While our collaboration has been ongoing, it’s been a few years since we worked deeply with Heath Ceramics on new developments. The Camellia design was released in 2013, Bird’s Nest and Indigo designs in 2015, and Natalie also visited California for our “Alabama on Alabama” show that summer.
If you are new to our Journal, read back for a wealth of information and history about this incredible California-based ceramics company. And Heath Ceramics celebrates 70 years this year. Wow. Congratulations Cathy, Robin, and the Heath team!
Today, we announce new product designs in the Alabama Chanin-Heath Ceramics collaborative style. These hand-etched necklaces are an Alabama Chanin and Heath Ceramics exclusive available only on AlabamaChanin.com and at The Factory Store. Our interview with Cathy catches us up-to-speed on their recent endeavors and new projects at Heath, including our jewelry line.
AC: It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with you. How is the world of Heath Ceramics? Are you still producing as many pottery lines as you were when we began our collaboration?
CB: Yes, we make changes slowly! Especially to our dinnerware lines. Recently we updated our color palette to our Coupe Dinnerware line; it had been 15 years since we had re-worked that palette. So it was really exciting to be able to add some new glazes. The new palette consists of both classic historic glazes and some newly designed colors.
AC: You have begun to expand your offerings beyond the clay and flatware we have been accustomed to. What spurred that decision?
CB: We are led by design, and so we always have new ideas of things we would like to create. Designing beyond clay has been happening slowly for many years, but usually, the products were offshoots of something we made in clay, like wooden trays or glass parts for our candle holders. We also make bags and soft goods now, from leather and textiles. This started after our friend Sherry Stein retired from making her line of bags. We learned how to make bags from her and now reproduce some of her designs alongside our own designs. Once we had the tools and expertise to work in these materials other ideas kept coming, from cat keychains to leather coasters, and currently, we are working with a local textile weaver on a line of tabletop textiles.
AC: You have remained committed to your belief in collaborations with lines like your Muir Flatware collection. Can you explain to us a bit about how you make it? And how did the collaboration with Sherrill Manufacturing come about?
CB: Since dinnerware goes hand in hand with flatware we’ve always had the desire to create our own flatware designs, but it was not until we found Sherrill Manufacturing (the last flatware manufacturer in the US) that we believed we could create a product with the integrity that we needed to do the project.
Sherrill is the last remaining flatware manufacturer in America. We have an affinity for companies with heritage and even more so for those remaining when all others have gone elsewhere or are no longer. When visiting Sherrill, we saw similarities in our Sausalito dinnerware factory: an honest spirit committed to craft with original machinery, generations of skill, minimal computers, and many hands instead. The Sherrill team is comprised of up to 50 people and operates today in the 125,000 square foot former Oneida flatware facility. Each team member is deeply skilled in different aspects of the manufacturing process; there are usually 15 to 20 steps to create just one piece of flatware. They also use US steel and sustainable energy to make their products.
AC: You have also expanded your traditional kitchen linens line to include fashion accessories like tote bags. Have you been able to keep this production in-house, as has been your tradition?
CB: Yes, Heath Sews is our own sewing studio where we work with textiles and leathers. We even started hand dying our leathers. Currently, we have five craftspeople working in our sewing studio which is in our San Francisco location.
AC: We love your “Fun and Unique” line. How did you incorporate items like playing cards into your brand?
CB: Sometimes we just include things because we like them, even if they don’t fit strictly into categories that we think our customer knows us for, or that even make sense. From playing cards to Swedish gnomes we just love these products and want to share them, so we sell them! Soon we’ll have our playing cards available on our website, which was an idea that came from one of our graphic designers who is an amazing illustrator. She thought some of her illustrations that she was working on for other projects could translate to Heath playing cards, so we encouraged her to do it!
AC: Your San Francisco location has a Newsstand, which you describe as a community hub. What made you want to open up your space to the public, to a greater degree?
CB: We created the newsstand to inspire and unite the community. Exposing culture from far off lands, and different perspectives from our own, while being a neighborhood hub for all. We have a passion for the printed medium, and our friendly, knowledgeable staff helps to build the local community on a face-to-face basis. It’s something we feel is important as our world becomes more mass produced and technology pushes us away from tangible face-to-face contact with each other. The newsstand is a democratic place with a depth in design, food, and culture, though not at the expense of classic news and periodicals.
AC: Alabama Chanin and Heath Ceramics are collaborating once again, this time on a jewelry line. How long have you been producing jewelry and what was this process like for you?
CB: That’s a good question and not a simple answer. Edith Heath used to create beads that she called kiln fillers because they could fit in-between the larger pieces in a kiln firing, thus not requiring any additional energy to produce. About 10 years ago we figured out how to create beads using Heath clay that were in a similar style to Edith’s beads; we’ve been evolving the designs ever since. About 2 years ago we started producing rectangular flat pieces that we make into necklaces. These pieces allow us a flat surface to showcase the remarkable beauty and detail in the glazes that we design. What was exciting about the collaboration for the Alabama Chanin Jewelry is that we were able to incorporate the etching technique that we use on the Alabama Chanin line of dinnerware. It’s an highly skilled technique to precisely etch the designs without a template, and the result is beautiful on the scale of the new jewelry.
AC: Do you have plans to expand your offerings even further in the future?
Right now we’re just refining all things that we do, which includes additional flatware designs and some new linens, so that is keeping us busy. We love to design and create beautiful things and that will always continue.