Lots of people talk about bringing manufacturing back to the United States, but sometimes we forget the companies that have never left, like Heath Ceramics. Nestled into Sausalito, just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, Heath has been making limited run, mid-century modern inspired ceramics since 1948. Tours are frequently given by the actual craftsman, many of whom have been working there for over 20 years. I recently headed up to the factory to get a tour with a handful of fellow RISD ID alumni. Here is a little of what we learned.
Edith Heath (1911-2005) founded Heath Ceramics in the mid-forties when, following her one-woman show at San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor, her pieces were picked up for sale at Gump's of San Francisco. For the past half-century, Edith's life was dedicated to the craft of ceramics and the skill of the artisan. This passion, along with the legacy of her work in stoneware clay body and glaze development, gives Heath its unique place in ceramics today. As a result of Edith's timeless and unique design sense—many of her pieces live in the permanent collections of museums such as the MOMA in New York City. I love the production notes that can be found sketched out all over the factory floor. Touring the facility one gets the sense that these are not factory workers, they are craftsmen and women.
Over the years Heath has become known for their amazing variety of glazes, unique dimensional tiles, and styles that seem defy time or place. The pieces are still made much the same way they were in Edith's time, with the workers on the factory floor having the ability to experiment to find new forms and finishes, an eye on efficiency, and a pricing model that reflects the true cost of production.
In 2003, husband and wife team, Robin Petravic, a mechanical engineer and Catherine Bailey, and industrial designer, purchased Heath Ceramics with a mission to revitalize the company, by placing a strong emphasis on design, handcrafted techniques, and the reinvigoration of the company's designer-maker legacy. They frequently collaborate with restaurants, hotels, retailers and designers to develop unique variations on their classics. My favorite is the demitasse cup they did for Blue Bottle Coffee (my favorite) here in San Francisco. The integrated sleek and modern handle is easier to mold in production as well as being easier to clean at the coffee shop.
We also got an early look at some of their new house number tiles, inspired by Charles and Ray Eames and Neutra.
If you find yourself with some free time in San Francisco, take a little time to visit Heath... I almost forgot to mention, on site, they have a great factory store of course!
Admission is free.
FRIDAY // one tour daily at 11:15 AM
SATURDAY & SUNDAY // two tours daily at 11:45 AM & 2:30 PM
400 Gate Five Road
Sausalito, CA 94965
P 415-332-3732 x13