The genre gets its name from the thick, encrusted glazes that typify many of these pieces, some of which look as if their surfaces are composed of frozen flows of lava in radioactive hues ranging from fiery reds to cobalt blues. While the glazes were referred to at the time as lava glazes, the "fat" designation is more recent, the result of the public's particular fascination with pieces whose glazes are especially thick and textured. Fat lava objects include large floor vases, smaller straight-sided jugs (some with ring handles near their mouths), and sculptural pieces that appear to have been chiseled and sliced, creating juxtapositions of smooth and gnarled surfaces. Some fat lava pieces seem to be outgrowths of the macrame-and-raku aesthetic of 1960s hippie culture, while others have a postmodern, almost pop-culture look to them, sporting deliberately childlike designs like flowers, some rendered in deep relief. While much art pottery of the 20th century was produced by companies such as Rookwood, Roseville, and Weller, some of the most innovative work came out of the private studios of independent artists, who produced one-of-a-kind pieces on production schedules of their own making. The studio art pottery movement in the United States is primarily about objects produced after World War II, but the inspiration for many studio ceramists was George Ohr, the self-described Mad Potter of Biloxi. Ohr built his first Mississippi pottery in 1883, using clay from the Tchouttacabouffa River. He was famous for taking conventional and classic vase shapes and then deforming them, glazing them in garish and dripping colors, or both. Another pioneer of the studio art pottery movement was Otto Natzler, who, along with his wife, Gertrud, was a mentor to fellow Californian Beatrice Wood in the 1930s and '40s. The forms thrown by Gertrud were mostly traditional, although her spare shapes were in keeping with the Mid-century Modern aesthetic of the day. Otto's role was to glaze his wife's work��during their long partnership, he created recipes for more than 1,000 glazes.

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