Posts Tagged ‘Oakland Museum of California’

On the left: Edith Heath’s family china. On the right: Edith Heath design.

“What began as a rebellion against imported white clay more than fifty years ago is now a modern-day classic,” says Jennifer Volland, guest curator of Edith Heath: A Life in Clay on now at the Oakland Museum of California. “Edith Heath has forever changed the cultural landscape of American design through Heath Ceramics.”

Edith Heath sorting her wares.

What might be considered one of the first lifestyle brands, Heath Ceramics was founded in 1948 by Edith and her husband, Brian. A distinct style of tableware made of California clay, Heath products were (and still are) simple and practical. With her no-frills design, Edith was pushing back against the ornate European dishes that her mother collected. She called the clay used in fine china “gutless.”

Edith Heath: A Life in Clay is an exploration of Edith and Heath Ceramics and the impact both continue to have on American aesthetics. Using photos, advertisements, vintage Heath pieces, various equipment, and a documentary video, this exhibit takes us through Edith’s journey from childhood to artisan to designer to successful businesswoman. (And for me Heath Ceramics are so appealing with their simple chic lines and earthy colors, to look at them is like enjoying a sweet treat.)

Edith Heath in the early 1940s.

Potter and designer Edith Heath (1911-2005) started her life (the second of eleven children) on an Iowa farm where she learned to make everything by hand, from the clothing she wore to the food she ate. She attended college in Chicago and became a teacher. When she and her husband moved to San Francisco in 1942, she attended California School of Fine Arts (known today as San Francisco Art Institute) and that’s where she learned about, and fell in love with, ceramics.

Mid-century California livin’ with Heath Ceramics. The photo in the back is of Edith entertaining outdoors. The dress on the left belonged to Edith and was designed by her friend Evelyn Royston.

Edith was all in and not only did she study how to make pottery, she studied the elements of different clay and experimented with glazes. She was asked to exhibit at the Legion of Honor Museum where a buyer from Gump’s admired her work, bought the collection for the store, and set her up in a studio Gump’s was operating in Chinatown. But it was hard for her to keep up with the demand for her handmade wares so she soon shifted to molds and machines, which her husband designed and made himself.

Edith was criticized by her fellow artisans, who claimed that art could only be handmade, but she disagreed with them saying that it’s the design that counts and “Good design doesn’t depend on whether something is made by hand.” With new capacity to fill larger orders the couple opened their own operation, Heath Ceramics, in Sausalito.

In the 60s Edith worked with local architects and began to make tiles and in 1971 Heath Ceramics contracted with a new chain of restaurants, Victoria Station, to provide their dinnerware. This lucrative deal led to more restaurant contracts, including with the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Also in the 70s, the company began to make buttons and beads, which Edith called “kiln fillers.”

I met Interior Decorator Heather Cleveland at the exhibit press preview and she shared with me that she first learned about Heath from her stylish grandmother, who always set an impressive dinner table. Heather, who is in-the-know about what’s in vogue for the modern home, says that mid-century is still hot and Heath Ceramics is the perfect fit. Heather herself has been collecting Heath for several years, one piece at a time.

She isn’t the only one! Edith sold Heath Ceramics to husband and wife team, Robin Petravic and Cathy Bailey in 2003 and the company still thrives, making Heath tableware in the original Sausalito location. Based on the response I got from my early FB and IG posts about the exhibit, Heath Ceramics is well known and loved.

Edith Heath: A Life in Clay runs now through October 30, 2022 at the Oakland Museum of California. If you know about Heath, you will learn more, and if you’re new to the world of Heath prepare to have an overwhelming desire to reset your dining table!

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Textiles and yarn did not have enough structure and volume, but clay I found was and is just right. I like its substance, its malleability, and its color.

Edith Heath (1911-2005), American ceramicist, designer, and founder of Heath Ceramics.

Come back to ODFL tomorrow for my coverage of the new exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California, Edith Heath: A Life in Clay.

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Afrofuturism: a movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture.

What I missed most during Pandemic 2020 were museum visits. For me, museums are spaces where I can quietly learn something new, become inspired, and see the world from a different perspective.

The Oakland Museum of California offers all that and more with their reopening exhibit Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism, on now through February 27, 2022.

Co-curated by OMCA Curator Rhonda Pagnozzi and Consulting Curator Essence Harden, Mothership explores various artists’ imaginings of the past, present, and future through an Afrofuturism lens.

Harden says, “As a strategy, Afrofuturism fosters an infinite course of actions.
Mothership offers not the whole but certainly an evocative and sincere gesture within the
multidimensional world that Afrofuturism dares to create.”

Mothership takes viewers on a journey into the many aspects of Afrofuturism and asks us to consider black lives as they were, are, and will be in the future. Organized into four sections – Dawn, Rebirth, Sonic Freedom, Earthseed – the exhibit mixes art, music, video, film, photographs, and literature featuring over 50 artists whose work has tapped into Afrofuturism. Science fiction author Octavia Butler, jazz musician Sun Ra, and artist Chelle Barbour are just a few of the renowned artists included.

You for Me, collage by Chelle Barbour.

Walking around the four sections, surrounded by otherworldly music (playlist by DJ Spooky) and images, is a total emersion in Afrofuturism. Earthseed, perhaps my favorite section, takes a look at “mundane” lives of black people through photographs, portraits, videos and something particularly touching – home movies of the Bean family. Filmed by Ernest Bean, a Pullman Porter, these images document an average black family in the 1930s and 1940s Oakland doing every day things such a gardening and dancing.

Exhibit wall quote: Mundane Afrofuturism honors ordinary vestiges of the past, rejoices in the pleasures that
can be found in the now, and cultivates Black spaces that foster well being. The Mundane
Afrofuturist Manifesto, 2013 by artist Martine Syms, was an important moment in Afrofuturist
thought. Underscoring ordinary, everyday Black life, Syms posed the question: Why do Black
people have to be superhuman to experience a safe and just human existence

Another display of artifacts that spoke to me was handwritten notes by author Octavia Butler. As a writer myself I was drawn to the lists and affirmations carefully printed, sometimes in colored ink. The mundane yet powerful actions of a writer, who wasn’t thinking at the time that notes to herself might speak to a writer in the future.

Octavia Butler’s notes. From the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism is an original, thought-provoking exhibit that travels beyond the museum walls inside the minds of viewers as they continue to ponder what they’ve seen and experienced. Don’t miss it!

Please note that in light of the current pandemic, things are a bit different: The museum is open Friday-Sunday. Tickets are timed and purchasing in advance is recommended. Masks are required and distancing is encouraged. Click here for more information on how OMCA is working to keep us all safe.

One more thing – check out the museum’s new café, Town Fare, offering fresh vegetable-friendly food by Oakland chef, Tanya Holland. Grab something healthy and delicious and head outside to the lovely museum gardens.

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Dora Milaje costume designed by Ruth E. Carter. Black Panther movie, 2018. Part of Mothership: Voyage into Afrofuturism exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California.

Afrofuturism was the closest we came to following a model that was out there already … I rooted myself in fashion and a lot of times, fashion in its simplicity, can have a forward feel to it.

Ruth E. Carter, American costume designer.

This quote is from a Q&A Ms. Carter did with Forbes magazine in 2018.

Having costumed over 40 films, including Malcom X and Amistad, Ms. Carter has been nominated three times for an Academy Award. In 2019 she was the first African American to win for her work on the Marvel blockbuster film, Black Panther.

Return to ODFL tomorrow for my coverage of the current Oakland Museum of California exhibition, Mothership: Voyage into Afrofuturism.

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RUN-DMC signed a million dollar contract with Adidas in 1985.

Who knew sneakers were such a rich topic? The casual shoe once only worn for sports has, since the 1980s, grown into a cultural phenomenon and become a highly collectable item for mostly men but women, too. (They don’t come in women’s sizes.) It’s big business with certain styles selling on the secondary market for triple the original retail price. Collectors often don’t wear the shoes, but instead house them in specially designed closets or custom built display cases.  Hmm … intriguing.


Early Sneaker from the 19th Century

I recently attended the Oakland Museum of California’s new exhibit Out of the Box: The Rise of the Sneaker on now through April 2, 2017. This traveling exhibit from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto explores the sneaker, tracing its history from the first 19th century athletic versions to the current craze among collectors for the next It Shoe.


These Pumas were designed by Hussein Chalayan in 2011. My favorite of the show. Love the simplicity with all the interest unexpectedly at the heel.

Over 140 pairs of shoes are on display including styles from Adidas, Nike, Puma and Reebok. There are vintage styles, hand-painted, limited editions, and designer sneakers from the likes of Christian Louboutin (complete with red sole).

The exhibit is arranged in six sections, helpfully outlining the development of the sneaker. Remember Converse? Basketball player Chuck Taylor endorsed the Converse making them the must-have shoe for every teenage boy across America.


Customized/hand-painted sneakers by artist Mache. Joker from The Dark Night.


The sneaker as status symbol really kicked in during the 1970s as Americans embraced fitness and brands like Puma and Adidas. Later in the 1980s, Hip-Hop and Rap artists took to  the casual shoe style as part of their overall look catapulting sneakers into a celebrity stardom of their own.

An entire section is devoted to Air Jordans, the signature sneaker styles of basketball player Michael Jordon by Nike.

Evelyn Orantes, OMCA Curator of Public Practice says: Sneakers are more than just a shoe – they are an expression of personal identity and a reflection of pop culture, whether it’s the latest sports fashion or technology-driven creations.

What a fascinating exhibit! I recommend this to anyone interested in fashion history, pop culture, pop music and of course all those sneaker collectors out there.







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I love museums and always have. I believe there is inspiration to be found in museums – inspiration for fashion, stories, thinking, life.

One of my favorite museum haunts is the Oakland Museum of California. I remember going as a school kid and what intrigued me most were the history exhibits of recreated rooms; I can still see the lovely lady donning a tall hat standing at the door of her Victorian home and the American Indians dressed in their beaded leather and feathered finery. Talk about leaving an impression!

Mandala by Nancy Hom.

Mandala by Nancy Hom.

Another impressive exhibit at the OMCA is their annual Day of the Dead. For 21 years, the museum has invited six or so local artists to create altars honoring the November 1st celebration, All Souls Day. (Note: After this year, the museum will go on a biennial schedule for this exhibit.) It’s really an all season celebration including Halloween and a time when we all are thinking of lost loved-ones. This year’s exhibit theme is Rituals & Remembrance and it runs now through January 3rd, 2016. Touring the gallery, it had me thinking about family traditions both old and new of honoring the dead – from visiting a gravesite to a birthday mention on Facebook.

Close up.

Close up.

Mandala by Nancy Hom caught my eye at a distance for size and color and then drew me in forcing a closer look at all the photos. Each one is colored and has an added skeleton figure, setting a scene and telling a story.

Although small, there is much to see and ponder at Rituals & Remembrance and don’t forget the Community Celebration coming up October 25th. Click here for more information.

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OMCADayofDead_10It’s that spooky time of year and once again the Oakland Museum of California is celebrating Dias de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) with a special exhibition running now through December 8, 2013. Days of the Dead is a Mesoamerican annual tradition of honoring the dead between October 31st and November 2nd with alters and various festivities.

To mark their 19th year celebrating Days of the Dead and the opening of the Gallery of California Natural Sciences, this year’s exhibition title is The Tree of Life and Death. Nine local artists have created altars and installations focussed on the combined themes of remembrance and the interactions between humans and nature. Artist and Guest Curator Eduardo Pineda says: This exhibition uses the powerful symbol of the Tree of Life and Death to represent the indivisibility of life and death. Drawn from the sacred Mesoamerican metaphor of a life-giving tree that unites earth, the heavens, and the underworld of death, the tree also represents the connection with ancestors and humanity.


Talk Story Time by Nancy Hom.

Housed in the new California Natural Sciences Gallery, the nine pieces explore personal loss, community loss of environment and resources, and the cycle of life. One of my favorites is by artist and poet Nancy Hom. Titled Talk Story Time, her piece is a round table set for a meal with four chairs dressed in clothing including shoes placed underneath the table. The four chairs represent friends and fellow poets whom Ms. Hom had known for years. The table is meticulously set with notebooks and writings by the four authors, and photos of them as well. A tree is painted on the wall in the background and hovering above the table are origami birds which have the poets’ works written on them. It’s a compelling piece – I was drawn in at first by the dressed chairs but the more I looked the more I saw and got to know these unique individuals.

There’s always something to learn, something to be inspired by, something to gain at Dias de los Muertos at the Oakland Museum of California.

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Lorna Doone's patched jeans are part of the 1968 Exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California.

 1968 was a memorable year:

  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy are assassinated.
  • The Vietnam war rages on as more and more youth protest against it.
  • Feminists demonstrate at the Miss America Beauty Pageant.
  • Confrontations and riots close down the National Democratic Convention in Chicago.
  • African-American athletes give the Black Power arm symbol at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

All of these events and more are explored in the current exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California. Using multimedia and artifacts from the period the exhibit dives into the social, political, and economic events of a pivotal year in American history.

Included in the exhibit is an array of clothing and accessories popular in the day. What people chose to wear plays an important role in the 1968 story. Baby Boomers are coming of age and rebelling against everything reeking of mainstream authority. Clothing quickly becomes a powerful and visible way for youth not just to rebel but to identify themselves. Hippies deck themselves out in long hair, patched jeans, and fringed vests. Liberated women go braless and sport miniskirts. Black Panthers show their determination in black leather jackets and black berets.

Back in 1968 teenager Lorna Doone sported a favorite pair of jeans (pictured above). Every time the jeans ripped or got a hole she’d add a patch until eventually the jeans were nothing but patches. In the exhibit she is quoted: Back in those days you could be considered weird and hippie if you wore, like moccasins, or if you wore a jean jacket. You didn’t have to look that much different to shock people.

McCarthy for President dress in the 1968 Exhibit.

Fashion even merges with politics in 1968. Eugene McCarthy challenges incumbent Lyndon Johnson for the democratic presidential nominee. As an anti-Vietnam War candidate he’s favored among college students. To show their support, young coeds attend campaign rallies donning McCarthy dresses, miniskirts, scarves and hats. Men “Get Clean for Gene” and shave off their beards.

In 1968 badges replace expensive jewelry as the latest must-have accessory. Rather than show off wealth, young people want to send a message: Ban the Bra, Get Out of Vietnam, Ringo for President, High as a Kite.

Among the fashions in the exhibit are costumes from the television show Laugh In, pieces worn by Janis Joplin and everyday clothing from hippies to college students to housewives.  

The 1968 Exhibit offers a great slice of fashion history and much more as it unfolds for us the events of 1968 month by month with audio interviews of Vietnam Vets, excerpts of popular television shows of the day, and select video of important speeches and news broadcasts. There’s also a related exhibit of posters – All of Us or None: Social Justice Posters of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The 1968 Exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California now through August 19, 2012.

Be there or be square!

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