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THE BEST YEARS : SENIORS : Working as One : * Potters Vivika and Otto Heino share a signature and nearly 40 years of collaboration as artists and married partners.

May 17, 1990|NORMA BARZMAN

After almost 40 years of working together, internationally recognized Ojai ceramists "Vivika and Otto" have just been awarded what is known as "the Oscar of craftsmanship."

Vivika and Otto Heino hate taking time off from work, even to go to the Atlanta convention where they will be honored. As if they are a single person, they will become a Fellow of the American Craftsmen, and they have been one since they met in the early 1950s, sharing marriage, work, creating and teaching.

"We lived in New Hampshire," said Vivika, "he on a milk farm, me in a little village outside Concord. I met Otto on my way into town. He asked where I was going. I said, 'To teach a pottery class.' He said, 'I'll come with you and take your class.' Then he came by to see if I needed any help setting up my studio. After that, we were never apart. He got rid of the farm where his old-fashioned Finnish father had made him and his brother milk 90 cows twice a day. When he sold it, he said, 'Now I'll never have to milk another cow again."

As a G.I. during World War II, Otto had been exposed to European folk art and had come back to the States with a great love of good craftsmanship, wood, glass and pottery. Vivika had already studied at the New York College of Ceramics, the New Hampshire League of Arts and Crafts, and the San Francisco School of Fine Arts and had developed her own studio. Otto was hungry to learn and studied at the Chouinard Art Institute and USC while Vivika was teaching there.

"He didn't want to be known as Mr. Vivika," she said. "So he went off and got a job at Douglas Aircraft. But he worked and worked at his pottery. He was so conscientious, so humble about it. I said to him, 'You haven't really learned to throw. You're still coiling. . . .' Or he would pass it to me for me to scratch. I said, 'I don't want to scratch. You do your own thing.' "

What has resulted is a kind of teamwork that does not exist with other ceramists. Both Vivika and Otto throw pots and both glaze, unlike other husband-and-wife teams who may each specialize in one or another aspect of a craft.

"He throws a bigger pot than I do," Vivika said. "But we like the same forms. . . . Neither one of us draws. We let the clay dictate where we're going. The only thing I draw is ideas to remember--I put them on file cards."

And always, no matter who conceived the original concept, the signature remains the same: "Vivika and Otto."

"He prints his name and I write mine in longhand," she said. "But we see things alike. It's remarkable. When we landscaped this place, we both had very similar feelings about how it should be done," she said, waving at the tremendous expanse of garden surrounding their Ojai home-studio-shop, where from every angle is seen beauty of line, form and color.

"We may have different ideas about how or what should be planted, but our feelings are very much the same." She laughed. "I can't forget--a long time ago, we were with some friends. Someone asked, 'What would you want if you had lots of money?' One of them answered, "I want a boat.' Another said, 'I'd buy a race horse.' Otto just sat there. You see how he sits," she beamed at him fondly. "I asked him, 'Otto--what do you want?' He looked sheepish. Then he said, 'I want peace of mind.' You know, that's what we both want. It's in our work, in the way we live."

Their home, their studio, the gardens, their pots all reflect the yearning for peace.

They haven't become California funky, say the art critics. They're traditional potters who have kept a straightforward approach and, as such, because they are fine and dedicated teachers, have had an enormous influence on ceramics. They've been shown in hundreds of exhibitions from Czechoslovakia to Canada, have taught wherever they've lived and have received awards including the Gold Medal at the Vallauris Biennale.

It's no accident that they started out in New Hampshire and, after a nomadic life of creating and teaching, wound up here in a sunny peaceful valley.

"New England was a hard life. Otto used to have to drag our stuff through the ice and snow. I couldn't let him keep on, back and forth to the barn in below-zero weather. When we heard Beatrice Woods' old place was for sale, we were here in two days. That was 18 years ago. It was our dream."

"It was Paradise," put in Otto. "It still is."

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