Edith Heath

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Edith Heath
Edith Kiertzner

(1911-05-24)May 24, 1911
DiedDecember 27, 2005(2005-12-27) (aged 94)
EducationChicago Teachers College
San Francisco Art Institute
Known forCeramic art

Edith Kiertzner Heath (May 24, 1911 – December 27, 2005)[1][2] was an American studio potter and founder of Heath Ceramics. The company, well known for its mid-century modern ceramic tableware, including "Heathware," and architectural tiles, is still operating in Sausalito, California, after being founded in 1948.[3]

Life and education[edit]

Edith Heath ceramic canister.

Kiertzner was born on May 24, 1911, in Ida Grove, Iowa, forty miles east of Sioux City, Iowa, to Danish immigrants Niels and Karoline Kiertzner. In 1931, Kiertzner enrolled at the Chicago Normal School, later renamed Chicago Teachers College, and graduated in 1934. She enrolled part-time at the Art Institute of Chicago after graduation taking her first ceramic course. She also took classes from László Moholy-Nagy at his Chicago School of Design.[4] In 1938, Edith married Brian Heath.

Developing ceramics[edit]

Relocating to San Francisco, Edith accepted a position as an art teacher at the Presidio Hill School and audited classes at the California School of Fine Arts. She developed a clay body in these classes which she adapted many times for her production work. Not being able to have as much access to the pottery equipment as she wished, Edith pursued her ceramic interests on her own converting a treadle sewing machine into a pottery wheel.[citation needed]

In 1943, she studied eutectics, the science of mixing various metals with clay to create specific properties, with Willard Kahn through the University of California extension courses.[5] She experimented with mixing various metals into the clay mixture to achieve different properties. She used native clay, experimenting with various California clays before settling on clay from the Sierra mountains because this was able to withstand very high heat.[4] Heath's continued experimentation led to her becoming an expert in how different clay types affected aesthetic qualities of her wares. She also developed custom glazes, including the speckle glaze that was innovative at the time.[6]

In 1944, her first major show was at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. She also participated in the Syracuse Ceramic Nationals.[7]

Heath ceramics[edit]

A buyer from San Francisco retailer Gumps approached Edith to supply their store with her high quality hand-thrown pottery using the company's pottery studio. She accepted the opportunity, while continuing to work in her own studio.[8] Major retailers began to order tableware, which required Heath to develop ways to manufacture her pieces from her design rather than create them by hand.[4] In 1948, she opened Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California. By 1949, Heath was producing 100,000 pieces a year.[1]

Heath Ceramics was purchased by Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey in 2003.[9] Edith Heath died on December 27, 2005, at her home in Tiburon, California.


Edith Heath's "Coupe" line remains in demand and has been in constant production since 1948, with periodic changes to the texture and color of the glazes. Other Heath pottery lines include "Rim," designed in 1960, and "Plaza," designed in the 1980s.[10] "Rim", as its name implies, had an unglazed outer rim. It was favored by restaurants because the rim made the pieces easy to carry and the pieces stacked securely.[6]

Architectural tile[edit]

Exterior of Norton Simon Museum highlighting Heath's tile used on the building.

The Pasadena Art Museum, now the Norton Simon Museum, in Pasadena, California, and designed by Pasadena architects Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey of the firm 'Ladd + Kelsey' used Heath architectural tiles. The distinctive and modern curvilinear exterior facade is faced in 115,000 glazed tiles, in varying brown tones with an undulating surface, made by Edith Heath.[11] They are part of the backdrop many see when viewing the New Year's Rose Parade. Heath was awarded the American Institute of Architects Industrial Arts Medal for this work. It was the first time the medal had been given to a non-architect.[12] She also collaborated with architects Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard, Kevin Roche, and William Pereira.[6]


Interested in making use of small clay leftovers and space in the kiln, Heath created a line of ceramic buttons. Although colorful, the buttons did not work well and they were discontinued.[6]

Exhibits and media[edit]

  • In 2019 the public television station KCET produced a biographical documentary about Edith Heath's life and work, entitled Heath Ceramics: The Making of a California Classic.[13] The film was directed by Chris Metzler and Quinn Costello, and explored the history and influence of Edith Heath, including her continuing legacy at Heath Ceramics today.[14] The film was honored by the LA Press Club at the 2019 National Arts and Entertainment Awards where the film won first-place recognition in the Documentary or Special Program Feature (over 30 minutes) category.[15]
  • Edith Heath: Tabletop Modernist, Pasadena Museum of California Art, May 31-September 20, 2009[6]
  • Edith Heath: A Life in Clay, Oakland Museum of California, January 29, 2022 – October 30, 2022[16]



  1. ^ a b Klausner, Amos (2006). Heath Ceramics, The Complexity of Simplicity. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, LLC. p. 20. ISBN 0-8118-5560-0.
  2. ^ Falino, Jeannine (2011). Crafting modernism: midcentury American art and design: [exhibition Crafting modernism. Midcentury American art and design, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, October 11, 2011 - January 15, 2012; Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, February 27 - May 21, 2012]. New York: Abrams. p. 285. ISBN 978-0810984806.
  3. ^ Marsha Ginsburg (2006-01-01). "Edith Heath -- renowned ceramicist". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2006-09-14.
  4. ^ a b c Kane, Peter-Astrid (February 1, 2022). "'She was an alchemist': Edith Heath, the rebel ceramicist who defined postwar California modernism: A retrospective of the ground breaking artist's work celebrates her love of cermaic chemistry and material exploration". The Guardian.
  5. ^ Bray, Hazel V. (1980). The Potter's Art in California 1885-1955. Oakland, CA: The Oakland Museum Art Department. p. 62. ISBN 0-295-96200-3.
  6. ^ a b c d e Seckler, Judy (2010). "Edith Heath, Thoroughly Modern". Ceramics: Art and Perspective (79): 71–73.
  7. ^ Evans, Paul (1990). Art Pottery of the United States : An Encyclopedia of Producers and Their Marks, Together With a Directory of Studio Potters Working in the United States Through 1960. New York: Feingold & Lewis Pub. Corp. p. 420. ISBN 0-9619577-0-0.
  8. ^ "Proposed Heath Ceramics factory · Environmental Design Archives Exhibitions". exhibits.ced.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2017-06-30.
  9. ^ "HeathCeramics.com: About Heath". Archived from the original on 2006-08-27. Retrieved 2006-09-14.
  10. ^ Zahid Sardar (2004-02-01). "Home Is Where the Heath Is: A Bay Area pottery tradition continues under new ownership". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2006-09-14.
  11. ^ Chang, Jade (2005). Art/Shop/Eat Los Angeles. Somerset Books. pp. 90–98. ISBN 1-905131-06-2.
  12. ^ "Pasadena Art Museum". Pasadena Art Museum. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  13. ^ "Heath Ceramics: The Making of a California Classic (2019)". IMDb (2019). 2019. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  14. ^ "Heath Ceramics: The Making of a California Classic, Artbound Season 10, Episode 2". KCET (2019). 2019. Retrieved November 12, 2020.
  15. ^ "National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, 2019 Winners" (PDF). Los Angeles Press Club. LA Press Club. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  16. ^ "Edith Heath: A Life in Clay". Oakland Museum of California. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  17. ^ Durant, Jessie; Vigor, Emily. "Edith Heath, a Handful of Clay". Exhibition Archives. UC Berkeley Environmental Design. Retrieved 21 February 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Klausner, Amos. Heath Ceramics, The Complexity of Simplicity. Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco (2006) ISBN 0-8118-5560-0

External links[edit]