Born in Vienna, Austria, Gertrud Natzler graduated from the Vienna Handelsakademie in 1926 and later took classes in drawing, painting, and ceramics. Also born in Vienna, Otto Natzler graduated from the Bundeslehranstalt fur Textile-Industrie in 1927 and worked as a textile designer. Both of them studied ceramics with Franz Iskra in Vienna in 1934 before organizing their own workshop in 1935. Married in 1938, the Natzlers fled Nazi-occupied Austria and immigrated to the United States, where they settled in Los Angeles.
During their thirty-six years of collaboration Gertrud threw the clay and formed it into simple pristine vessels, while her husband glazed and fired the vessels. Their objects are distinguished by the varied glazes on the surface, each glaze tested carefully by Otto and applied with consideration of the clay form with which it is paired.
Kenneth R. Trapp and Howard Risatti Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998)
For more than thirty years the husband-and-wife team of Otto and Gertrud Natzler created extraordinary pottery pieces that were widely collected and known nationally and internationally. Otto met his wife and future collaborator in Vienna in 1933. According to Otto, they began working together after they “ ‘discovered’ simultaneously clay and each other.” Immediately recognizing Gertrud’s natural ability on the wheel, Otto shifted his focus from throwing vessels to glazing the completed forms. With a basic knowledge of chemistry and through trial and error, he perfected around 2,000 glazes during his lifetime, diligently recording each glaze’s specific formula. With tensions growing in Austria on the eve of World War II, the Natzlers immigrated to the United States in 1938. They settled in Los Angeles, teaching ceramics while building their reputation as serious artists. They established a workshop a year later, and gained national recognition for their work, which was predominantly made of clay found in California. When Gertrud died in 1971, Otto was faced with hundreds of unfinished artworks. He began working on these a few years later, and went on to create hand-built glazed pieces of his own. (Gertrud Natzler, The Ceramic Work of Gertrud and Otto Natzler: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1966)