'A Handful of Clay' Exhibition

UC Berkeley hosts retrospective show on renowned Bay Area ceramicist Edith Heath
Handful of Clay

A handful of clay is hardly the first material that springs to mind when you think mid-century modern or Bauhaus—unless you're thinking of Edith Heath, probably the definitive modernist of functional ceramics.

Her enduring legacy as a Bay Area designer and extraordinary collaboration with numerous architects are the subject of a new exhibition at the Environmental Design Archives of UC Berkeley titled just that: 'A Handful of Clay: The Legacy of Edith Heath,' running May 22 through September 19.

Starting in her own kitchen with a pottery wheel fashioned out of a treadle sewing machine, Heath launched an historic career out of her first solo show in 1948 at San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor.

Functionality and simplicity were the Bauhaus-inspired principles she used to produce a line of Heathware from a still-operating factory in Sausalito, which she sold two years before her death in 2005.

Her work included collaboration with architects of the Neiman-Marcus store in Dallas, the lobby of the Mauna Kea Hotel in Honolulu and several other noteworthy structures, plus a place in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In awarding her its Industrial Arts Medal in 1981, the American Institute of Architects noted Heath's innovative formulations of clay and glazes, calling her “as much a chemist as a designer.”

Probably her most viewed creation, however, is the 115,000 glazed tiles fronting what is now known at the Norton Simon Museum, seen prominently during the Rose Parade each year in Pasadena. A sample of that tile, as well as a unique handrail at the Los Angeles Times building, are part of the show in Wurster Hall on the UC Berkeley campus.

The May 22 opening of 'A Handful of Clay' will include a lecture by Heath biographer Jennifer Doublet and a panel discussion. For more information, visit events.berkeley.edu.