Otto Heino, Prolific Potter, Dies at 94
By Bruce Weber, New York Times

Otto Heino, a prolific ceramicist whose simple, elegantly shaped pots and opulent glazes earned him not just a fortune but also a reputation, which he shared with his wife, Vivika, as the personification of sturdy American artisanship, died July 16 in Ventura. He was 94 and lived in Ojai.

The cause of death was renal failure, said his niece Lillian Heino Long.

Heino (pronounced HIGH-no), a driven craftsman who was said to produce up to 10,000 pieces a year, was known as a purist in his work with clay. He often worked with massive amounts, throwing 50 pounds or more at once to produce his huge signature platters. His pieces were texturally natural, with finger ridges left in them, and he mixed wood ash into the glazes he developed and used, which gave the finished work a velvety depth rather than a perfect luster.

One glaze in particular stood out: He and his wife, who died in 1995, created a rich yellow, said to have been a re-creation of an ancient Asian formula. It was so widely admired that pieces finished with it routinely sold for as much as $25,000.

Heino’s work has been shown at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and myriad other public and private galleries. He summed up his career in an interview with The Los Angeles Times last year. “I am the oldest, richest potter in the world,” he said.

While many of his contemporaries ventured into sculptural techniques, Heino adhered Advertisement to the household-container model, producing variations on “a vessel format,” in the words of Christy Johnson, director of the five-year-old American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, which owns several of Heino’s pieces. His shapes included long pods with narrow mouths and tall, neckless vases with horizontally stretched mouths marked at the sides with bits of clay that Heino referred to as birds.

The decorative touches on the work were also simple, influenced by Japanese calligraphy.

“He didn’t punch holes in his work or beat it with a stick,” Johnson said, comparing Heino with others who experimented with avant-garde shapes. His pots, she added, “may not have held cookies, but they were containers you could use decoratively in a home.”

Aho Heino was born in East Hampton, Conn., on April 20, 1915, one of 12 children of Finnish parents who had first settled in Boston. His father was a farmer and later, after the family moved to New Hampshire, ran a milk business, providing fresh milk to a creamery.

Heino took up his potter’s craft after returning from World War II, during which he served in Europe. (He changed his name to Otto during the war and claimed later that this, along with his blond hair and blue eyes, saved his life after he was shot down over Germany.)

He studied pottery-making on the GI Bill in Concord, N.H., at the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts. His teacher, Vivika Timeriasieff (nee Place), would become his wife. They moved to California in 1950 and began teaching and making pottery. In 1973, they established their workshop and gallery, known as the Pottery, in Ojai, often signing their work “Vivika and Otto,” no matter who had made it. They had no children.

Heino is survived by a sister, Olga Rogowski, of Canoga Park.

“Lots of potters idolized him, not just for how he made his work,” said Johnson, who has been a potter for nearly 40 years. “For how he operated a studio. For how he lived the lifestyle.”