[Now opening January 29] Oakland Museum of California Announces New Exhibition Celebrating Edith Heath, Designer and Founder of Iconic Mid-Century Brand Heath Ceramics
(OAKLAND, CA) October 7, 2021—This fall, Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) will explore the legacy of Edith Heath, one of the most influential and enduring designers of the 20th century, in an original exhibition opening November 13, 2021 in the Museum’s Great Hall.
Edith Heath: A Life in Clay will introduce visitors to the designer, entrepreneur, and scientist behind the iconic brand Heath Ceramics, surveying the life and career of Edith Heath (1911-2005). Heath was revolutionary in her idea to reject traditional white clays in favor of earthy, locally-sourced California clays, designing a new style of everyday ceramics that was made to endure and was deeply expressive of California’s land and lifestyle. Her focus on creating dependable, long-lasting products for the home resonates deeply, especially during these times of uncertainty even as California gradually reopens in the midst of the pandemic.
Press images available here.
Organized by OMCA Curator of Photography and Visual Culture Drew Johnson, and guest curator Jennifer Volland, the exhibition includes more than 50 early hand-thrown and early production pieces, architectural tiles, clay and mineral materials, intimate photographs, documentary video, personal memorabilia, a biographical and historical timeline, touchable objects, and more.
“Edith Heath transformed our notion of ‘good design,’ pioneering a new aesthetic of natural, stylish yet functional products made from local materials and designed to endure,” said OMCA Curator Drew Johnson. “As an icon of quintessential California design who lived and worked in Sausalito and San Francisco, OMCA is excited to share the extraordinary story of Edith Heath’s life and legacy.”
“What began as a rebellion against imported white clay more than fifty years ago is now a modern-day classic,” added guest curator Jennifer Volland, who has researched the life of Edith Heath since 2014, serving as an essayist and editor for the book Edith Heath: Philosophies and consulting producer on the award-winning documentary Heath Ceramics: The Making of a California Classic (KCET Artbound, 2019). “Edith Heath has forever changed the cultural landscape of American design through Heath Ceramics. Countless people have brought Heath dinnerware and tile into their homes, and we are excited for OMCA visitors to get to know the fascinating and inspiring artist behind these ubiquitous designs.”
Edith Heath: A Life in Clay will examine Heath’s technical experimentations with native California clays and glaze formulas as she rebelled against imported white clays—what Heath referred to as “gutless”—embracing instead clays that were expressive of the region. Heath’s love of natural landscapes not only shaped the earthy quality of her designs, but also inspired her to seek out California clays that were not traditionally used for fine dinnerware. A self-trained scientist, Heath continually experimented with clay glazes and firing techniques. Visitors will view Heath’s early hand-thrown pottery, clay and glaze tests, raw clay and mineral samples.
Another section will consider Heath’s rapid commercial success as the business owner of Heath Ceramics, driven by a desire to create stylish, affordable, and enduring products. As her ceramics practice grew from hand-made operations to industrialized production, Heath remained committed to her fundamental goal of creating the best-designed, highest-quality products for the greatest number of people. This section will contain photographs and video of Heath’s production process, tools, early tile samples, a wall of architectural tiles, and touchable objects, including molds and tools to understand Heath’s clay manufacturing processes.
The exhibition will also explore how Heath Ceramics came to embody and define a distinct California aesthetic as Heath tapped into the post-war California lifestyle. As many mid-century Americans became more eager to celebrate the pleasures of domestic life, Heath recognized how contemporary dinnerware—from oven-to-table-ware to large serving platters and casserole dishes—could embrace California’s relaxed, indoor/outdoor lifestyle. This novel approach resulted in new dinnerware lines that better reflected the regional attitude and became an instant classic.
A final section will reflect on Heath’s enduring legacy as her products and values continue to resonate with consumers and designers alike, as the company enters its 75th year in business. This section will include stories from current and former OMCA staff concerning objects in their lives that have endured. Visitors will also be asked to write and share their own stories of objects they own that have lasted over the years, as well as have the opportunity to create their own patterns using Heath tiles.
Both a scientist and an artist, perfectionist and experimenter, rebel and visionary, Heath’s extraordinary accomplishments continue to inspire California lifestyle and design today.
Edith Heath: A Life in Clay will be on view in OMCA’s Great Hall from November 13, 2021 to June 26, 2022. There is a $5 charge for this special exhibition in addition to regular Museum admission.
Edith Heath: A Life in Clay is supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Remembering Hung Liu
Gallery of California Art
Through November 2022
Join OMCA as we honor the life and legacy of beloved artist, Oakland resident, and cultural bridge-builder, Hung Liu, who passed away on August 7, 2021. Drawing from our collection, this newly-organized installation features four of Liu’s works in our Gallery of California Art, offering a quiet setting for visitors to enjoy and appreciate her work, as well as space for remembrance and reflection, including opportunities to contribute memories of Liu.
OMCA has a long and treasured history with Liu, from early acquisitions of her work, to our partnership in commissioning the installation at the Oakland Airport, Going Away, Coming Home. In 2013, the Museum featured a survey of her works in the exhibition Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu, which explored the evolution of Liu’s artistic practice through her paintings, personal ephemera such as photographs, sketch books, and more. This new installation includes the works Still Point (1998) and Heroine of Gu Yanxiu (2012), as well as Bindlestiff (2015) and Portrait of Dorothea Lange (2017) inspired by the photography of Dorothea Lange.
Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism
Through February 27, 2022
Afrofuturism is a lot of things. It’s the past, present, and future reimagined through a Black cultural lens. Visionary, spiritual, and generative, it is art, music, literature, and cinema that expresses a just future where Black people and Black ideas thrive. It is fantasy and science fiction that envisions the African Diaspora and Black culture as central in a technically advanced and culturally rich civilization. It is also the ordinary—now— in this very moment and the everyday pleasures that may often be seen as mundane. Afrofuturism is a strategy for Black community building.
Come with us on a fantastic journey into the heart of this movement with Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism. As we reopen our doors after months of shelter-in-place, Mothership offers a powerful reason to gather and celebrate Black imagination. Experience the work of some of the central figures of this cultural phenomena—author Octavia E. Butler, avant-garde jazz musician Sun Ra, and filmmaker Kahlil Joseph. Explore contemporary artworks, a Dora Milaje costume from the film Black Panther, photography, and other historical objects. Experience a replica of the Mothership itself— musician George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic’s Afrofuturistic vessel—to relax in an otherworldly video installation, a curated playlist by DJ Spooky, and more. Learn about the connections between important figures of Afrofuturism and the ways in which Afrofuturism is present in our everyday lives.
You Are Here: California Stories on the Map
Gallery of California Natural Sciences
Ongoing through February 28, 2022
We all use maps in our everyday lives—to navigate public transportation, find places to eat, and visualize big data like weather patterns or political opinions. But have you ever considered the deeper stories maps tell us? In You Are Here: California Stories on the Map, you’ll discover there’s more to maps than meets the eye. Showcasing a diverse range of maps from Oakland, the Bay Area, and California—from environmental surroundings and health conditions to community perspectives and creative artworks—experience how maps can be a powerful tool to share unique points of view and imagine a better future. Explore new perspectives of familiar places through maps made by the community, and mark your own stories on the community map inside the exhibition.
Dorothea Lange: Photography as Activism
Gallery of California Art
Experience the iconic life and work of Dorothea Lange, world-renowned documentary photographer, with an expanded installation of her works in the Gallery of California Art. Through the lens of her camera, Lange documented American life with riveting photographs that captured some of the most powerful moments of the 20th century. Drawn from Lange’s personal archive, which was gifted to OMCA over 50 years ago, and in response to the popular 2017 exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing, a number of newly added photographs will illustrate the power of photography as social activism. See how Lange’s work continues to resonate with millions and inspire new generations of artists and activists.
Gallery of California History
Uncover the history of the Black Power movements in California with a compelling addition to the Gallery of California History. In response to the widely-popular 2016 exhibition All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50, this new installation will illustrate the creative ways black anti-racist activists in California supported their communities and challenged the U.S. government. Focusing on the example of the Black Panther Party, Black Power will bring to light the tensions between a culturally and socially progressive California and examples of economic racism and oppression in the state. This moment in California history will be represented through historic photographs, provocative objects, iconic posters, paintings and interactive prompts that encourage visitors to take action out in the world. Learn more about the Bay Area role in this national story, and the impacts this history continues to have today.
Question Bridge: Black Males
Gallery of California Art
Hailed as one of the Bay Area’s Top Exhibitions by the San Francisco Chronicle, Question Bridge: Black Males returns to the Oakland Museum of California’s Gallery of California Art. Immerse yourself in intimate videos—woven together and arranged to simulate face-to-face conversations between participants—among a diverse group of over 160 Black men across the United States. Hear these men answer each other’s questions with exceptional honesty and vulnerability, and share stories, beliefs, and values in a personal portrayal of their lives. Encompassing themes of family, love, interracial relationships, community, education, and wisdom, Question Bridge: Black Males presents nuanced portraits of past, present, and future of Black men in American society. Listen, watch, learn, and start your own conversations with this profoundly moving installation.
Question Bridge is an innovative and widely exhibited video installation from artists Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas in collaboration with Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair. Joining the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Brooklyn Museum, OMCA is proud to acquire this groundbreaking and poignant work for its collection.
ABOUT THE OAKLAND MUSEUM OF CALIFORNIA
The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) tells the many stories that comprise California, creating the space and context for greater connection, trust, and understanding between people. Through its inclusive exhibitions, public programs, educational initiatives, and cultural events, OMCA brings Californians together and inspires greater understanding about what our state’s art, history, and natural surroundings teach us about ourselves and each other. With more than 1.9 million objects, OMCA brings together its multi-disciplinary collections of art, history, and natural science with the first-person accounts and often untold narratives of California, all within its 110,000 square feet of gallery space and seven-acre campus. The Museum is a leading cultural institution of the Bay Area and a resource for the research and understanding of California’s dynamic cultural and environmental heritage for visitors from the region, the state, and around the world.
The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is at 1000 Oak Street, at 10th Street, in Oakland. Museum admission is $16 general; $11 seniors and students with valid ID, $7 youth ages 13 to 17, and free for Members and children 12 and under. There is a $5 charge in addition to general admission pricing for special exhibitions. OMCA offers onsite underground parking and is conveniently located one block from the Lake Merritt BART station, on the corner of 10th Street and Oak Street. The accessibility ramp is located at the 1000 Oak Street main entrance to the Museum. museumca.org
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