Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Howard Kottler originally pursued a career in optometry, receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Biological Science from the Ohio State University in 1952. Unhappy with his course work, Kottler began experimenting with clay through elective courses. After a year in optometry school, Kottler dropped out and returned to OSU for his Master of Arts, which he completed in 1956. He went on to study with Maija Grotell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he received his Master of Fine Arts in 1957. Howard Kottler is one of the few people to achieve a PhD in ceramics, when it was briefly offered by OSU, which he finished in 1964. He was hired by the University of Washington where he, along with Robert Sperry and Patti Warashina, made the institution’s ceramics program one of the most important and vibrant educational centers in the United States.