Monday, October 12, 2009

Otto Heino, 1915-2009

Three years ago, when I was still rather gingerly recovering from a heart attack, a very, very dear friend of mine took my wife, my daughter, and myself to meet Otto Heino: the greatest potter in the world. Or, as he liked to say of himself, "the richest potter in the world." Otto was over 90 at the time, working every day, having the time of his life, and I suppose my friend thought he would encourage and inspire me.

He did.

Otto became a multimillionaire by rediscovering the secret of Chin dynasty Imperial Yellow pottery glaze. Above and beyond that, he was a staggering talent -- a true master of his ancient medium, operating at the top of his form for decades. He was an absolute genius of earth and fire, at the level of a magician. One does not come to such a state in a single lifetime.

Otto passed away a couple of months ago, so I would like to honor his memory by recounting a story he told me.

Because I am interested in ancient formulae for this and that -- I actually collect such things as a hobby -- I naturally asked him to tell me the story of how he re-discovered the Chin dynasty glaze.

He began his answer by explaining how much he loved his wife, Vivika, who had passed away in 1995, and how many years they struggled together to duplicate that formula. He told me of the literally thousands of failed attempts they made, and of the many hours they spent puzzling over the matter.

He told me that when she died, it broke his heart, and that he became very discouraged. However, he said that shortly after she died, she came to him in a dream. She spoke to him directly, and told him that she was going to give him very important information: that she was going to give him the precise formula for the lost yellow glaze.

As it happens, after all the years of trial and error, that was the correct formula.

"I keep it in my head," he told me. "It is easy for me to remember, because that was the last time I ever spoke to her."

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