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Originally published April 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 22, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Obituary

Otto Natzler, ceramics master, dies at 99

Otto Natzler, a master glazer and wizard of the kiln who with his wife, Gertrud, created some of the most admired ceramics objects of the...

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Otto Natzler, a master glazer and wizard of the kiln who with his wife, Gertrud, created some of the most admired ceramics objects of the 20th century, has died. He was 99.

Mr. Natzler, who was vital and active into his 90s through a regimen of yoga and exercise, died of cancer April 7 at his Los Angeles home, art dealer Darrel Couturier said Tuesday.

The Natzlers' elegant and daring works — she was the potter — helped elevate ceramics from a "decorative art" to a fine art. Their works were featured in innumerable gallery shows and are housed in dozens of museum collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York's Metropolitan and Modern Art museums, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Mr. Natzler personally developed more than 1,000 glazes for pottery.

Kenneth Donahue, former director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, wrote of the Natzlers that their works "seemed to have been born and to have grown as if they were natural things."

The death of Gertrud in 1971 of cancer ended the Natzlers' artistic partnership, although she left behind about 200 pots for Otto to glaze. He did so, one by one, over many years.

Eventually, Mr. Natzler moved on to his own works, including menorahs and slab sculptures, which brought him new admirers.

Otto Natzler was born Jan. 31, 1908, in Vienna to a dentist and a housewife. As a child, Mr. Natzler discovered art through his uncle's "artist-a-day" wall calendar.

At 15, he enrolled in a textile design course. He began his work life designing and thinking up color schemes for neckties at a local company. But in 1933, after Adolf Hitler took over Germany, the company was blacklisted by German retailers because its owner was Jewish. Mr. Natzler lost his job.

During the summer of that year, Otto met a secretary named Gertrud Amon. By then, his first marriage was failing (they divorced in 1934). When Gertrud told him of her budding interest in clay, he feigned a similar interest, although he detested the preciousness of the ceramics he had seen in museums and shops.

But, as he soon discovered, such objects never were the intention of Gertrud.

In 1937, the couple submitted a few pieces to the Austrian pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition. On March 11, 1938 — the day that Gertrud and Otto received the news that they had won a silver medal at the exhibition — Germany invaded Vienna.

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Otto's cousin in Los Angeles helped them flee Austria. They married in June of that year and left Vienna in September.

In Los Angeles, the Natzlers turned out piece after piece that stand "among the finest pottery of all time," said Dane Cloutier, an art dealer and ceramic-art consultant, writing in 1999 in Modernism magazine.

At first, Otto couldn't bring himself to glaze the last of the pots that Gertrud had thrown. His third wife, photographer Gail Reynolds, whom Natzler married in 1973 and who survives him, persuaded him to finally face the task.

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