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Object of the Week: Vase, by Gertrud and Otto Natzler

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Gertrud and Otto Natzler are one of several collaborative husband and wife teams that made a significant impact on American ceramics in the twentieth century. After meeting in Austria in 1933, they immediately began a collaboration; Gertrud had recently started studying ceramics, and Otto took an interest in the medium in order to better connect with her. The couple opened their first studio in 1935 in Vienna and received their first prize in 1938 for works submitted to the 1937 World Fair in Paris. The invading Nazi regime cut short their careers in Austria, and Gertrud and Otto immigrated to the United States in 1938, just months after getting married.

Upon their arrival in California, the couple opened a small workshop and gallery in Los Angeles. They initially struggled to sell their wares but soon settled comfortably into the growing market for studio pottery. In 1939, they submitted several works to the 8th Ceramic National exhibition at the Everson (then called the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts), a decision that would transform their careers. Established in 1932, the Ceramic Nationals were a series of juried exhibitions that attracted ceramic artists from across the country to display their works in Syracuse, sparking a national interest in the ceramic arts and changing the public’s view of pottery from a craft to a respected art form. The jurors for the 8th Ceramic National chose to include six of the Natzlers’ works in the exhibition, and one of their vases received a coveted Purchase Prize for Pottery. This led to national recognition for Gertrud and Otto, and in the following decades, they submitted works to over a dozen Ceramic Nationals, frequently winning additional Purchase Prizes and Memorial Awards.

Gertrud and Otto were both inventive and creative, and their poetic partnership in life and work allowed each to develop and hone their respective skills. Gertrud threw classic and elegant thin-walled vessels on the pottery wheel, which Otto covered with textured and innovative glazes. He constantly experimented with glaze formulas and firing techniques, achieving remarkable colors and surface qualities. Over the course of his career, he developed over two thousand glaze recipes, each created for a specific vessel thrown by Gertrud. Vase highlights the incredible marriage between surface decoration and form that Gertrud and Otto perfected, showcasing a striking turquoise glaze on the surface of a gracefully shaped vessel. They submitted Vase to the 20th Ceramic National in 1958, winning the Purchase Prize given by the Guy Cowan Memorial, and the work was acquired for the Everson’s collection.

The couple continued their partnership until Gertrud’s death from cancer in 1971. Shattered by the loss of his wife, Otto did not return to the studio for over a year, at which time he began sculpting slab constructions.

Vase is currently on view in From Funk to Punk: Left Coast Ceramics through April 15.

-Sarah Poisner, Curatorial Intern & Steffi Chappell, Curatorial Assistant

Image caption: Gertrud and Otto Natzler, Vase, 1958, earthenware, Everson Museum of Art; Purchase Prize given by Guy Cowan Memorial, 20th Ceramic International, 60.12