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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Otto and Vivika Heino

Vivika and Otto Heino
Otto Heino (1915-2009) and his wife Vivika (1910-1995) were master potters, educators and icons of the mid-century California studio crafts movement.

Vivika Place Heino was born in Caledonia, New York, and fell in love with ceramics when she was seven years old. She saw a potter work at a local store and immediately went home to attempt throwing her own pot, using the turntable of the family's Victrola and sand from her sandbox. It was not until she was an adult that she received formal training at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. She also studied under Glen Lukens at the University of Southern California.

In 1942 she was offered a teaching fellowship at Alfred University, distinguishing herself as the first woman to receive an MFA from that institution. After receiving her degree, she set up her own studio in Greenwich Village and later taught in New Hampshire. It was while teaching there that she met Otto Heino.

Otto Heino was born on a dairy farm in East Hampton, Connecticut, the fifth of twelve children of Finnish immigrants. By the time World War II started, he had established a successful trucking firm. During the war, he visited the studio of English potter Bernard Leach and decided that ceramics would be his life's work. In 1948 he enrolled at the Sharon Art Center, an affiliate of the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts, where Vivika Timeriasieff was his pottery instructor. They married in 1950.

The couple moved to California in 1952, Vivika taking a teaching position at the University of Southern California and Otto hired by NASA to work on space capsules but also teaching at the university. After three years at USC, Vivika taught at the Chouinard Art Institute and was a technical advisor for Twentieth Century Fox Studios. In the mid-50s they opened a small pottery shop in Los Angeles. Vivika taught during the fall and spring semesters, and Otto worked full-time as a potter. In the summer, they would switch roles, with Otto teaching and Vivika working at the shop. They moved to the East Coast in 1967 so that Vivika could teach at the Rhode Island School of Design. They returned to California in 1973 and established a gallery in Ojai, which they called The Pottery.

For the next two decades, the couple worked together, throwing pots and developing glaze formulas. They signed their work "Vivika + Otto," no matter which one of them made the piece. At the time of her death, Vivika was working on duplicating a yellow Asian glaze. Otto continued her work and was eventually successful in discovering the formula, which he dedicated to his wife. Heino was offered millions of dollars for the formula, but he refused to sell. He reportedly received as much as $25,000 for pieces with the yellow glaze and as much as $75,000 for each gallon of the glaze he sold and was a multi-millionaire at the time of his death.

In 1978, Vivika was appointed to the Apprentice Fellowship Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Otto earned the 1978 gold medal at the Sixth Biennial International de Ceramique in Vallauris, France, for a pot with two birds perched on the rim. In 1991, Vivika was honored as Trustee Emeritus for the American Crafts Council in New York.

Together, the Heinos participated in over 200 national and international exhibits, and received numerous awards. Notably, they showed their work at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the De Young Museum in San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Picasso Museum in Vallauris, France, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the American Craft Museum in New York, now called the Museum of Arts & Design.

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  1. i love them so much! i had the honor of meeting otto at his studio in 2006. he was charming and very kind to share some of his knowledge with us. i left with a beautiful blue glazed vase, but am disappointed that i was too cheap, and i didn't purchase one of his yellow glaze narrow neck pots. i could never afford one now!

  2. They did beautiful work. Thanks for compiling these biographies - I always learn a lot!

  3. @Carey Brown Strombotne: I would have loved to meet the Heinos. From everything I've read, they were very open and approachable, and they loved to teach. Otto must have become a bit of a character in his later years. I can just imagine him telling people that he was the "oldest and richest potter in the world." What a work ethic, to be firing pots right up to age 94!

  4. @Reduce, Reuse and Rummage: It is my pleasure. I learn something new every day that I write this blog, and it pleases me that other people enjoy reading it. Thank you for being a regular!

  5. Beautiful. I love to read your blog before I go out vintage shopping, it gives me new and interesting things to look for!

  6. Absolutely intriguing post and amazing pottery. I love these informative posts, I always come away feeling like I know just a little bit more about the era that I'm so in love with. Thank you for taking the time to share. My grandpa's name was Otto so I've decided that my life won't be complete until I find one of these pottery pieces!

  7. @DearHelenHartman and Flo: I'd probably keep researching all this stuff even if nobody read my blog, but knowing that you enjoy my posts and find them worthwhile makes them even more fun to write. Thanks for the kind words...and for continuing to come back.