Everything Old is New Again

Two local ceramicists connect the past with the present while shaping the future.

Ceramics is a craft deeply rooted in human history. From the humble vessels of ancient civilizations to innovative works by contemporary ceramicists, this versatile medium has transcended its utilitarian origins to become a powerful form of artistic expression. In the hands of skilled artisans, clay transforms into dishes, sculptures, and tiles that capture the human capacity for creativity and adaptability. Today, ceramicists stand at the intersection of tradition and innovation, celebrating the rich history of their craft while pushing its boundaries.

Despite differing approaches, the works of both Heath Ceramics and Erin Hupp are driven by a deep appreciation for history and a bold vision for the future. These artisans are molding the narrative of this ancient art form using the tangible, enduring medium of clay: one represents a timeless legacy of craftsmanship, and the other seeks to bring new narratives to the table.

Heath Ceramics

Heath Ceramics stands as a testament to the artistry and enduring beauty of small-scale production. Founded in 1948 by Edith and Brian Heath, the iconic studio has not only weathered the sands of time, but it has also become an institution for those who appreciate the marriage of heritage and a commitment to human-scale craftsmanship. In an era dominated by mass production and mechanization, Heath Ceramics remains steadfast in its commitment to preserving the artistry inherent in crafting each piece by hand.

Heath Ceramics began as a small-scale pottery studio in Sausalito, focusing on the creation of simple, functional pieces that embodied the principles of mid-century modern design. Edith Heath’s vision was to bring quality craftsmanship into everyday life, enriching homes with handmade ceramics that seamlessly blended form and function. As the studio evolved over the years, Heath Ceramics expanded its offerings while staying true to its foundational principles. The iconic Heath Tile, introduced in the 1960s, has graced countless spaces, from residential kitchens to commercial establishments, leaving an indelible mark on the architectural landscape.

Now led by husband and wife duo Robin Petravic and Cathy Bailey, Heath Ceramics’ tile factory in San Francisco’s Mission District serves as both showroom and workshop, inviting visitors to witness the creative process firsthand. This transparency fosters a connection between the artisans and those who appreciate the artistry behind each piece, creating a “kiln-to-collector” experience.

The studio’s commitment to human-scale production also extends beyond its products; it’s a philosophy that influences the way Heath Ceramics engages with its community and the environment. Its official designations as a California Green Business and Certified B Corp underscore its responsibility to the planet and future generations, ensuring that each piece crafted is not only beautiful but also ethically produced.

As San Francisco continues to evolve, Heath Ceramics remains proof of the enduring allure of thoughtful craftsmanship. Every piece that emerges from its kilns continues to inspire generations to appreciate the value of human-scale production and ceramics made by hand.

Erin Hupp

Oakland-based ceramicist Erin Hupp is shaping the future of ceramics with an approach based on how art complements a particular space and environment. Her hand-thrown dishes not only serve a practical purpose, but also encourage people to connect with their surroundings, homes, and the ritual of sharing a meal. Though she is well-known for her collaborations with some of San Francisco’s top dining establishments, creating bespoke tableware pieces for Californios and Nightbird, among others, she also collaborates with interior designers to create custom pieces for the home.

Hupp has carved out a niche for herself by transforming clay into masterpieces that go beyond mere utility. She believes in the power of art to foster connections, and her work encourages people to forge meaningful relationships with their environment. From vases to caviar servers, Hupp’s creations bridge functionality and aesthetics, connecting individuals to their surroundings. Her carefully hand-thrown plates and bowls are more than just dinnerware—they become conduits for a shared experience, bringing people together around the table. She also seeks to craft new connections through her work, collaborating with other artists including chefs, metalsmiths, and floral designers. As she sees it, these partnerships are a way for her to continuously grow her practice and expand the definition of her art form.

Though her designs and approach may lean toward modern, Hupp’s work honors and draws inspiration from the rich heritage of ceramics. A recent collaboration with chef Val M. Cantu of Californios paid homage to pit firing, a finishing technique from bygone eras. Once practiced out of necessity, the ancient firing method was embraced by Hupp for its unique and unpredictable results, resulting in pieces that are truly one-of-a-kind. By mixing convention and innovation, Hupp establishes a dialogue between past and present. And, in the hands of those who cherish them, her creations link people to the simple joys of home and hearth.