Oakland Museum celebrates the distinctly Californian, durable beauty of Heath Ceramics
A Heath Dinnerware brochure from 1948. Photo: Brian and Edith Heath Foundation / Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley

There’s a shade of yellow-green that’s immediately recognizable to fans of Heath Ceramics.

Called “yuzu” by the company, after the East Asian citrus fruit, the hue has been used for much of Heath Ceramics’ 74 years on items like candlesticks, plates and bowls. In the Oakland Museum of California’s new exhibition “Edith Heath: A Life in Clay,” exploring the legacy of the company’s founder, the color is also represented in spectacular tiles and art plates — and even on a gallery wall (the paint is Spice Market by Benjamin Moore).

The color transported me to the company’s sunny Sausalito factory store, where my husband and I have bought pieces for our own table. It also brought a vibrancy to the exhibition that felt fitting for its subject.

Heath Ceramics creamer and open sugar vessels, 1948. Photo: Brian and Edith Heath Foundation

When Edith Heath opened her Sausalito company in 1948, her work was revolutionary. Prior to Heath, both everyday and fine china was mostly made of delicate white clay and usually nodded to the European past in its design. It wasn’t until Heath’s experiments with native California clays and handmade shapes in the 1940s that the state had something for its tables as organic feeling and innovative as its ethos.

The exhibition charts the company from Heath’s early exhibition of her work at the Legion of Honor in 1944 and her discovery by a buyer for San Francisco home decor retailer Gump’s to the popularity of the ceramics in midcentury homes and their current status as elements of lasting design. In a favorite display, we see a full re-creation of the kind of table setting she and husband Brian Heath would have had at their own Sausalito home, laid out with gorgeous, slightly imperfect factory seconds like the ones I search for.

“Edith Heath: A Life in Clay” is on view at the Oakland Museum of California until Oct. 30. Photo: Christina Cueto

“The concept of endurance is an overriding theme of the show,” said guest curator Jennifer Volland. “We open the show with a case that has three pieces of Haviland china from Edith’s family. She rejected this idea of china that would only be used on special occasions. She thought it was a superfluous household object, so she set out to find something that was different and that could be used for, as she said, both every day and Sunday best.”

“There’s a lot of things about her ideology and approach having to do with a love of the California landscape,” OMCA staff curator Drew Johnson added. “She connects with the postwar California lifestyle and creates this focus on a rich domestic life that could be expressed with humble household objects like dinnerware.”

For many fans of Heath, her “everyday” pieces carry important emotional connections. Hannah Bruegmann of Lafayette inherited part of the 200-piece collection her grandmother started buying in the 1960s. Her grandmother mostly bought seconds as well, a tradition Bruegmann carries on. One of the first pieces in her cabinet that catches her eye is a 1960s plate with the company’s redwood glaze, one of the pieces she uses in her daily rotation.

“It’s a little wonky,” said Bruegmann. “It’s got an off-kilter shape and some markings, but it’s a classic.”

Amira Atallah of San Francisco has built a collection with her husband after discovering Heath at a neighborhood restaurant.

“We view it as an affordable luxury,” said Atallah. “It’s nice to have a few small things like that in your life.”

What resonated the most with me about “Edith Heath: A Life in Clay” was the idea that Heath wanted to make durable beauty accessible to regular Californians in their everyday lives. Especially with so much time at home during the pandemic, I have come to appreciate how those little moments of thoughtfulness in design have had such a positive impact on me. It can be as simple as picking up a bowl in the morning and feeling a tinge of joy when I see the vivid yuzu glaze inside.

“Edith Heath: A Life in Clay” exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: Christina Cueto

“Edith Heath: A Life in Clay”: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Through Oct. 30. $7-$16, with children age 8 and younger free year-round. Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland. 510-318-8400. www.museumca.org



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By Betty C. Giordano

Welcome to my site. My name is Betty C. Giordano and I am a blogger of everything related to mobile, news, events and reality in general. I hope you enjoy reading my content.

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