Connections: Alden and Vada Dow and Gertrud and Otto Natzler
Alden B. Dow made his debut as a young architect on the international stage when he was awarded the Grand Prize in residential architecture at the 1937 Paris Exposition for his designs of the John Whitman residence and his own studio. Architecture was just one of the many categories included in the Paris Exposition. Among the others also earning honors that year were Gertrud and Otto Natzler, who were awarded the silver medal in ceramics.
The Natzlers had worked together since they first met in 1933, Gertrud throwing the forms and Otto devising the glazes. They married and left their native Vienna in 1938 and settled in Los Angeles, arriving with one potter’s wheel and a small kiln.
Gertrud was an extraordinarily accomplished ceramist, producing exquisitely elegant forms – simple, sensitive, classic. She was able to achieve incredibly thin walls in her vessels, yet the forms retained a feeling of strength and vitality, never evolving into artifice or contrivance. They were the perfect vehicles for the unique, textured glazes created by Otto.
Mr. and Mrs. Dow clearly had an eye and a passion for the pieces made by the Natzlers. They purchased their first pieces from Amberg/Hirth gallery in San Francisco in May of 1946. The invoice found in the Home and Studio Archives lists four bowls – two for $25, one for $35, and another for $50.
As the Natzlers gained recognition for their work, their pieces began to show up in exhibitions that the Dow’s may very well have seen, such as at the Exhibition for Modern Living at the Detroit Institute of Arts (1949) and at the Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum as part of its biennial exhibition of textiles and ceramics (1949, 1951, and 1953).
Mr. Dow was so impressed with the originality of their work that he wrote to the chairman of the American Institute of Architects Committee of Allied Arts and nominated them for its Craftsmanship Medal in 1951: “I would recommend Natzler of San Francisco for his very handsome work in ceramics. He is one of the few who combines handsome forms with unusual and interesting glazes.”
In 1966 the Dows were asked by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to lend one of their pieces for a Natzler exhibition that summer. The exhibit catalog described it as Round Bottle, 1946, 8 ¼” H, Tiger eye reduction glaze with melt fissures and oil spots. Mr. Dow received a personal thank-you letter signed by Otto, who noted, “Emphasis was placed on each piece to show its individual importance and you would have seen the significance of your contribution to this exhibition as a whole. We are very grateful to you.”
Mr. and Mrs. Dow continued to add to their collection of Natzler ceramics over the years. Another letter from Otto in March 1971 thanks Mrs. Dow for her kind note, adding “We were glad to know that everything arrived in good condition and that you liked your selection.” In all, there are 15 pieces displayed throughout the Home and Studio, more than any other artist in the Dow’s extensive collection of decorative arts.