Gertrud Amon Natzler
1908 – 1971
Gertrud Amon Natzler’s collaboration with her husband, Otto Natzler, over almost four decades produced some of the twentieth century’s finest ceramics. They are held by over seventy museums throughout the world and by countless private collections. Her nearly twenty-five thousand hand-thrown pots, bowls, and bottles are celebrated for their refinement, delicacy, and proportion. While the body of her work reflects an unending quest for absolute perfection of form, she also produced functional pieces, such as yahrzeit (memorial) lamps. Her husband brought exceptional color and texture to the work with the glazes he invented and developed by experimentation, carefully documenting several thousand formulas.
Gertrude Natzler was born on July 7, 1908, to Adolf and Helene (Grünwald) Amon, Viennese Jews who had one older child, Hans. Her father had a stationery manufacturing business and her mother was a homemaker. Educated in Vienna, she studied at the Handelsakademie (commercial school), then worked as a secretary and took courses in painting and drawing. She met Otto Natzler and in 1934 the two began to study ceramics together at the workshop of Franz Iskra. Only one year later, they set up their own studio, devoting themselves full-time to their art. Soon the work of the largely self-taught artists was recognized for its excellence. In March 1938, on the day the Natzlers learned they had been awarded a silver medal at the World Exhibition in Paris, the Germans took over Austria. They married in June, and in September left their homeland for California.
Settling into a new workshop in Los Angeles, the Natzlers began a prolific American career, distinguished by national and international recognition, innumerable exhibitions, awards, and acclaim. They spent the summers from 1956 to 1960 as artists-in-residence at the Brandeis Institute in Santa Susana, California, conducting ceramics workshops for college-age Jewish participants. Among many institutions where their work is exhibited are the Jewish Museum in New York, Bezalel National Museum in Jerusalem, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Gertrud Amon Natzler died from cancer on June 3, 1971. For more than a year after her death, Otto Natzler was unable to work, but then he began firing and glazing over two hundred pieces she had left. Thus the collaboration continued, as did exhibitions of their work, including retrospective shows in 1973 at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., in 1977 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, and in 1993 at the American Craft Museum in New York. The 1994 exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Vienna brought the work of Gertrud Amon Natzler full circle to the place of her birth.
The Ceramic Art of the Natzlers. Written and directed by Edmund Penney, videocassette, 1967; The Ceramic Work of Gertrud and Otto Natzler: A Retrospective Exhibition. Exhibition catalog, Los Angeles County of Museum of Art (1966); The Ceramic Work of Gertrud and Otto Natzler. Exhibition catalog, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco (1971); Clay Today: Contemporary Ceramists and Their Work: A Catalogue of the Howard and Gwen Lurie Smits Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1990); Form and Fire: Natzler Ceramics 1939–1972. Exhibition catalog, Renwick Gallery, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution (1973); Gertrud and Otto Natzler: Collaboration/Solitude. Exhibition catalog, American Craft Museum, NYC (1993); Gertrud and Otto Natzler Ceramics: Catalog of the Collection of Mrs. Leonard M. Sperry, and a Monograph by Otto Natzler. Exhibition catalog, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1968); Natzler. Exhibition catalog, Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles (1977); Natzler, Otto. Interview by author. Los Angeles, May 11, 1996; WWWIA 6.