It’s no secret that Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics, founded in 1948 by Edith Heath and brought to greater acclaim after Catherine Bailey and Robin Petravic purchased the company in 2003, is where to go for quality ceramics.
From Yves Behar’s Canopy, a Pacific Heights workspace featuring an abundance of Heath tile in the kitchen and bathrooms, to the tables at Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse (a union so gastronomically holy it prompted a dedicated collab), the Sausalito-based company is the go-to for ceramic excellence.
Inspired by the beauty and legacy of Heath, we gathered a handful of other Bay Area-based ceramists whose small-batch bowls, vases, and wall art deserve equal attention.
It’s important to note that while Heath started as pottery, and later morphed into tableware and tile, not all these artists will follow that path. But the trail they’ve all blazed is rich with unique perspectives and attention to detail.
Here are a handful of Bay Area ceramists who should be on your radar, especially during the holidays. Many of them have brick-and-mortar shops with ceramics at the ready.
Spending 15 years as a cook at Los Angeles restaurants (Lucques, Campanile, Canelé), Mendocino-based Colleen Hennessey now creates ceramics geared for the kitchen, with an eye on creating pieces that present meals or harvest beautifully. Her works are one-of-a-kind and have been featured in several books and magazine, as well as on the tables of local notable restaurants.
This French designer living in San Francisco doesn’t stick to bowls and vases. The ceramist’s pieces are highly conceptual ranging from large-scale suspension pieces to the whimsical bud vases. One of the most exciting ceramic voices around right now.
After pursuing a baking and pastry degree in New York, Mel Rice moved to San Francisco and took her passions in another direction. Spending eight years both as a student and studio manager at the pottery studio at San Francisco City College, she started her own line of ceramics inspired by the sight, smell, and sounds of the Pacific Ocean. Her works are simple and clean. (Some are even downright bawdy.) Using techniques from splatter to Mishima (a process developed by Korean potters covering pieces in celadons), Rice’s works can be found online or at a cozy micro shop on Valencia Street, in front of Amnesia.
Another gastronome makes it way on the list. Sarah Kersten’s work features an emphasis on high fired stoneware. “All of my designs respond to real needs, needs I’ve had in my own kitchen, or wishes I’ve heard from friends and chefs I’ve worked with,” says Kersten. “I work slowly, considering shape, size, and the overall feeling of a piece for as long as it takes to get it just right—sometimes years.” Be sure to check out her splatterware pieces, which will help any room or table suffering from minimalist overload.
Featuring patterns and geometric design, ceramist Cuong Ta uses his tenure as a math teacher to inspire his work. “I continue to be drawn to explore the play of positive and negative space, the tension between boundary and flow,” says Ta. His works come in a variety of sizes, with darker hues taking center stage.
Drawing inspiration from architecture, geology, beach combing, and industrial design, Sara Paloma began working with clay in college as a requirement for an art education degree. That course sparked her interest in ceramics, which has since turned into a career. Since moving from Los Angeles to the Bay Area in 2003, Paloma’s has created stoneware vessels for galleries and design shops around the country—most notably, a 2013 line of vases and bowls for Restoration Hardware.
Influenced by the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi (a philosophy on the acceptance of transience and imperfection), Rae Dunn’s work focuses on the beauty of things imperfect and incomplete. Her gorgeous ceramics are noted for their use of text (like this “salt of the earth” salt cellar) and aviary themes (Dunn’s animated bird plate is delightfully whimsical) that predate the famous Portlandia skit.
A handmade tableware business run by Hayes Valley-based ceramic artist Mary Mar Keenan, MM Clay focuses on textures with a heavy emphasis on grooves and indentations. Most recently, she designed a collection for James Beard Award-winning chef Stuart Brioza's, The Progress. In addition to producing tableware for other esteemed eateries (A16, WildHark, and Octavia, just to name a few), MM Clay’s textured work has been featured in Food and Wine Magazine, Remodelista, and Saveur.
Deceptively simple, Gerhard Ceramics boast some of the most refined and elegant pieces around, period. While their matte and gloss glazed finishes are typically available in white or black palates, each of their handmade pieces benefit from minor blemishes. “These variations and imperfections are cherished and embraced,” says Gerhard.
Experimenting with materials like clay, soil, plaster, concrete, and plants, Sasinun Kladpetch combines raw materials with human-made materials “to show the coherence of beauty.” Her pieces are primarily for viewing, not for touching. But what visions they are. In a word, stunning.
From glazed mugs that look like desert landscapes to a teapot sprouting crab legs, Sarah Duyer’s work brims with ghastly humor and wit. Her pieces, which have been featured all over the Bay Area, ranges the gamut from simple and elegant tableware to macabre ring dishes. Her “Rest In Pizza” coffin ceramic pins are especially delightful.
Oakland-based Husband and wife duo of Jay and Rie Dion, who met in graduate school at California College of the Arts, have created a small business that has made a huge impact on the coffee scene. Since starting in 2011, their work has been featured at SightGlass, FourBarrel Coffee, and The Mill. They even created a collection of glazed, blue-hued tumblers for Unionmade.