2023 marks the 75th year for Heath Ceramics. Seventy-five years… each representing a continuation of creativity, values, and traditions that started in Edith Heath’s home studio on a potter's wheel that Brian Heath built by hand. Seventy-five years gets us thinking. What needs to stay true for Heath to endure for another seventy-five?
This past year we traveled back to Japan for the first time in three years. We reconnected with friends, old and new, in their pottery studios and furniture workshops. Beauty in every piece of clay and wood. Soul in every gesture. These are the kind of relationships that connect through a shared philosophy about design, craft, and the nature of “having a business” (or more accurately, the nature of “having a philosophy” that has to exist within the realities of a business—a topic we wrestle with constantly that could fill a newsletter, or a book, all of its own). There’s something about this part of Japanese culture that feels comfortable and familiar to us. It's the respect for tradition and what came before. That it's ok to enjoy what you do well, to keep focused on honing one’s craft, and that when something is good, it doesn’t need to change for the sake of changing. We share the belief that when you lead with true creativity and an excitement for the work you do, good things will follow, including the qualities needed to endure. Thank you, Akio Nukaga. Thank you, Tokuhiko Kise. Visiting with you gave us the gift of connection and perspective.
...it's ok to enjoy what you do well, to keep focused on honing one's craft...when something is good, it doesn't need to change for the sake of changing.
It’s a nice coincidence that 2023 also marks the 20th year for the two of us at Heath’s helm. Two decades in, we remain as inspired as on our first day. A walk around the old dinnerware factory in Sausalito is just as thrilling today as it was then. Slip casting still feels like a magical process, turning liquid clay into hollow vases and teapots. Opening a kiln of fired ware still reminds us of Christmas morning with the delight of unveiling colorful glaze decorating every shelf. Mold profiles of almost every shape we’ve ever made hang on the walls of the mold shop, representing the history of this place through form—and not only history, but the way traditions live on here today. Our clay body still follows the same formula. Glazes are still sprayed on by hand using a technique that emphasizes the individuality of each piece. Perhaps most importantly, we still make every piece of dinnerware and tile in our own factories here in California so that we stay connected to every aspect of the work and the people doing it.
Our new designs are developed right here in the factory, as they always have been. Experimentation happens with our hands, and actual materials. Our mighty three-person Heath Clay Studio team practices this every day, turning out truly inspiring pieces that convey our design legacy through stunning new work. Re-trying a technique that was first used fifty years ago, but slightly differently, can lead to wonderful new results and open new avenues (you’ll see what we mean later this year!). That focus on creativity—without fear of trying new things, or voices of comparison—leads to originality. How do you do “new” while sticking to traditions? When it comes to design, our historic archive is where new ideas come from old ideas. Evolving means drawing inspiration from who you are and where you came from. Each renewal comes from a common core and grows from the values we hold most important, the ones that created Heath in the first place.
Each renewal comes from a common core and grows from the values we hold most important, the ones that created Heath in the first place.
Our role is one of stewardship, letting that creative soul continue to flourish. The values and traditions that sit at the heart of Heath enable us to endure. It’s all right there to be recognized, called out by name, and used to guide us. The work of the year ahead celebrates the last seventy-five, while working to set Heath up to thrive for the next seventy-five, digging deeper into our foundation, understanding what’s important, and being ever more transparent in sharing how we put intention into action. All the while, we are honing our craft, cultivating our originality, and drawing energy from the honestly interesting and reciprocal relationships that inspire us.
With gratitude, Cathy and Robin
*Lead Image: Our design studio inside our original Sausalito factory. Image by Catherine Bailey.