5.11.2013

ode to Edith Heath

secondhand Heath Ceramics large serving bowl lid, with pears

I fell in love with Heath Ceramics after I'd moved away from the Bay Area, where I was born and where I'd lived for years before moving to Portland, meaning I haven't yet taken the factory tour in Sausalito—something for the bucket list. Edith Heath, former children's art teacher, transformed herself into one of the finest mid-20th-century American ceramicists with a deep understanding of clay and glazes, designing simple lines of California pottery for the home, as well as a range of hand-crafted architecture tile. Plus, from the photos, at least, she always looked stunning, even at the potter's wheel, with her Danish bone structure, striking jewelry, and full skirts—a beautiful, successful artist and businesswoman. Isn't that still the dream of many?

Right after I began thrifting in earnest almost four years ago out of necessity, I came across a cache of Heath Ceramics items at one of the Beaverton Goodwills. Not knowing their worth at the time and worrying about finances, I passed on a lot of it, though I brought home seven brown Coupe-line bowls and a brown Coupe creamer. In years since at different Goodwills around town, though I've never been so lucky as during that one Beaverton score, I've snagged mugs in the Coupe and Rim lines ($1 each), four "seconds" Rim-line plates ($1 each), a couple Coupe saucers ($1 each), a green "seconds" Chez-Panisse-line side bowl ($2), and a large 11-inch serving bowl ($4), minus the cover. At the Eastmoreland Garage Sale two summers ago, I also scored a Heath teapot for a mere dollar. Since not all pieces are easy to find, I did buy a used pair of Heath salt-and-pepper shakers off eBay a few years ago. To see how much use my Heath pieces get, just search for the word "Heath" here on the blog and scroll down. Most are of varying degrees of vintage, while some are newer, but all are secondhand, mostly from Goodwill. Collecting dinnerware this way keeps me focused and my shelves lean since I do not find Heath pieces at the thrift stores often, maybe two or three times a year, shopping regularly.
 

secondhand Heath Ceramics large covered serving bowl with lid, bought separately, $28 total
 
Before her death at age 94 in 2005, Edith Heath sold her business to a youngish couple who have expanded Edith's offerings, not all of which are to my taste since the new owners have begun experimenting with pattern on the classic minimal shapes. (Patterns on dinnerware, no matter how lovely, detract from the food itself, which, if tasty and made from scratch, deserves the spotlight on a plate.) In any case, spending any time on the Heath Web site, one can see how much well designed, handmade, American-made items rightly cost to produce and market. And though I support local handmade production in theory and fervently believe more Americans should and one day will have to, like it or not, start making things again themselves, creating environmentally sustaining cottage industries, I simply cannot afford to buy a new Heath anything on my income. Plus, why buy everything new when one can buy vintage? So instead I wait and trawl the used-goods market, finding a secondhand piece here, a couple more used pieces there—months if not years later—in the thrill of the hunt, the joy of the jackpot.


secondhand Heath Ceramics large covered serving bowl, open

I've had this large orange-and-brown Heath serving bowl for over two years now, used as a fruit bowl and a serving bowl for salads. My friend Jeff surprised me last night with the matching lid, placing it on the bowl on my metro shelving in silence while my back was turned filling his glass with ice at the freezer. I didn't notice for a while (so sly, he is) and then gasped. He had seen the lid a couple weeks earlier on eBay and asked if I wanted it. I did. He bid. And then later when I asked, he told me we'd gotten outbid. Oh well—win some, lose some. So I forgot all about it until I saw it nestled in its matching bowl as it was meant for. Somehow, nobody else had bid, so he got the lid for $25 (half of which was shipping), quite a bit of money for a mere casserole lid but peanuts compared to a new set or even an intact bowl-with-lid secondhand, meaning my covered bowl cost $29 total compared to $134 new.


secondhand Heath Ceramics large casserole lid via eBay

Having the lid makes the bowl even more multipurpose. Now it can bake casseroles and store leftovers in the fridge. And the lid, turned over and stood on its handle, makes a sturdy platter or dessert plate. Function and beauty—this is why Edith Heath was a genius. If only more people would stop in the aisle of Target or Walmart and take a look at the Chinese-made, seasonal-fall-apart trinkets in their carts with a more critical, thoughtful eye to multi-functionality, minimalism, and durability. But there is no teaching taste.


secondhand Heath Ceramics large serving bowl lid, empty


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