At the Wheel with Catherine Bailey of Heath Ceramics
Taking the reigns of a brand with a 55-year history comes with a solemn responsibility, but Cathy Bailey and her husband Robin Petravic have steered California-based Heath Ceramics with the same integrity and appreciation for craftsmanship as its original founders. We spoke to Cathy about the life lessons that can be learnt from the potter’s wheel and what it takes to build a collection that is as personal as it is authentic.
Tell us a bit about the history of Heath Ceramics, and how you and your husband came to be custodians of the brand.
Edith and Brian Heath started Heath Ceramics in 1948. Edith developed her own clay body to achieve the look and function she envisioned, and all of her glazes were developed in house. She was a purist. Her first priority was to make something really good. That’s our connection to her. Still, 70 years later, we want the exact same thing.
In 2003, my husband Robin and I took over the business. Our goal was to continue with the same philosophy that Heath was founded on, while updating the business model to make it one that’s led by design.
Would you say you’re more a visual person or a tactile person?
Oh, I can’t choose. I am very much consumed by visual and tactile experiences, and have a hard time separating them. From objects to spaces, to really understand and experience, I need to see and feel it all.
In recent years, people have fallen in love with ceramics and the art of pottery. What do you think has driven this renewed appreciation for the craft?
It’s amazing how many people tour our factory without having thought about the way the products they use are made. There’s not enough awareness of how their support of these products supports jobs and people in their community.
We’ve noticed that today, more than ever, people appreciate the work that can be achieved with hands and natural materials – once they understand it. Being transparent, and inviting people inside our factory, brings awareness; it helps them connect to our product, and the craft it takes to create it.
"Working on the wheel is about diving in, connecting your hands with your heart."
Like our rugs, your range is very much driven by the materials and the techniques. What have you been experimenting with lately?
We’re always experimenting with glaze, and thus colour. We see glaze as something far deeper than what’s on the surface. It’s about the way the glaze and clay interact and the depth, texture, and feeling that’s achieved when they do. In our Winter Collection, which recently launched, we played with bright and dim glazes, as well as gradation that signifies the transition we’re all feeling right now. We call this work “the Season of Love and Hope”.
Do you have any tips for the interior enthusiast on building a collection, whether it be ceramics or something else?
The most important tip, when collecting anything, is to follow your heart. Once you fall in love with an object or piece of art or design, you can dig into its history. Who is the artist? How is the product made? What does it stand for? If you’re fully passionate about it, then you can build your collection around it.
Passion is enough to bring together a collection. It does not need to be a certain style or era or colour or pattern (although you may be drawn to one of these). Everything comes together when it’s loved by the same person. That’s enough of a thread to build upon.
We love the hand-thrown pieces from the Heath Clay Studio, and the whole idea of exploring and taking risks. Is it too much of a stretch to say there are life lessons to be learned from getting behind the potter’s wheel?
No! There are so many lessons. Working on the wheel is about diving in, connecting your hands with your heart. It’s about having a sense of where you’re going and allowing yourself to feel the direction from there.
Heath is known as a real advocate for craftsmanship. Why is it important to you personally to invest in quality, timeless pieces?
This comes as a reaction to experiences I’ve had in my life, where quality and craftsmanship were missing. It’s important for me to be working in an area where the making is closely tied to the design – they go hand-in-hand. I want to be part of the entire process. And I believe that the culture of craft in small-to-medium scale manufacturing is vitally important to preserve.
Since travel is off-limits for many of us right now, we’d love to live vicariously through you! What do you love about Sausalito, where Heath is based?
Sausalito is a wonderful geographic location. I think of it as one of the most beautiful intersections of human engineering and nature. It sits at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge – on one side, it backs to the ocean and on the other side, the bay. The Golden Gate National Seashore preserves a large area of land that sits right next to a dense urban environment. That balance is what makes it remarkable. Also, that development was resisted and nature was seen as beautiful and important.
My favourite thing to do is take a picnic and hike over by the ocean. Heath’s original factory and store are in the north part of the town, close to the houseboat community and some interesting marine industrial activities. This part has not been taken over by tourism, so it’s still an interesting place to visit.
As far as local favourites, there’s a fantastic casual, sustainable seafood restaurant nearby called Fish, only a short walk from Heath.
Finally, as one of our stockists we can’t help but ask – what’s your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?
I’m eyeing the Ravine rug in Quarry for a new living room I’m working on. It has a beautiful natural weave that feels casual yet refined. I love the range of colours in the Quarry design – from green to gold, which seem to be plucked right from a wintery California landscape.
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