Legendary Potter Otto Heino has passed.
It's a sad day.
Otto Heino, the California ceramicist who with his wife developed a yellow glaze so prized by collectors they gladly paid as much as $25,000 for a single piece, has died. He was 94.
Heino died around 4:45 a.m. Thursday at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, according to a family member who answered the phone Thursday at The Pottery, Heino’s longtime home and studio in Ojai. She would not confirm the cause of death, but said the family would share more information in the coming days.
Still, the news spread quickly in Ojai, an artists’ community whose band of potters once was led by Heino, wife Vivika Heino and the couple’s friend, Beatrice Wood. Vivika died in 1995 at the age of 85; Wood died in 1998, at 105.
“It’s the end of an era, really. Otto was truly one of the last great American craftsmen to live in our community,” said Donna Granata, founder of Focus on the Masters, a nonprofit educational organization that documents the lives and works of area artists.
“He had a work ethic unmatched by anyone I know. This was a man who once produced a glaze to match a car,” Granata said of Heino, who was still using a pottery wheel and firing his own kilns into his 90s. “All of his success, literally, he created with his two hands.”
The fifth of 12 children born in New Hampshire to Finnish immigrants, Heino served as a fighter plane crew chief and waist gunner during World War II. The Army suggested he change his given name from “Aho” to the more Germanic “Otto” because the resistance was considered more likely to rescue Americans of German descent.
After the war, Heino’s burgeoning interest in ceramics inspired him to take a class in the subject. Vivika, who had studied with glaze master Glen Lukens, was the teacher. When Vivika accepted a teaching job at the University of Southern California, the couple left New Hampshire and headed west.
As potters, their styles were markedly dissimilar. Vivika created elegant bottle shapes while Otto specialized in large-scale bowls and platters. But throughout their 47-year marriage, they signed each of their respective pieces the same way: Otto + Vivika.
It wasn’t until after Vivika’s death that Otto perfected the butter-yellow glaze inspired by an ancient Chinese version that was said to have been lost for centuries. Heino often claimed, perhaps in jest, that he had been offered millions of dollars for the recipe for the glaze. But in a 2004 interview with The Star, he said he preferred to commit the formula to memory and then pass it on to his niece, a fellow potter.
In 1978, Heino’s work earned the gold medal at the Sixth Biennial International de Ceramique in Vallauris, France. He also received a Diplome D’Honeur from the International Academy of Ceramics in Cannes in 1955. He and Vivika exhibited at the Picasso Museum in France, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the American Craft Museum in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.Written by: Lisa McKinnon