Remembering Warren

I want to reinforce the sense of traditional values in people. The sense that in our brief tenure on this earth, in spite of the great problems we face, there are larger themes, maybe even timeless themes which transcend us. At the same time, I want my pots to express those themes with immediacy and emotional spontaneity. 

—Warren MacKenzie, as quoted in unpublished notes of Randy Johnston, artist and former MacKenzie student.

Warren MacKenzie—mentor to hundreds, role model to thousands, potter for the people, story-teller, inspiration. So many of us—makers, collectors, educators, and clay appreciators—can trace our lineage in clay to him. We collectively grieve the loss of this great man who, over his 94 years of life, helped to shape and inspire the ceramics community—and generations of makers from the Midwest to across the country. Our collective heart aches for the loss of an amazing artist and folklorist, a man who wove such romance into his journey in clay. My sense was that in his final years, Warren was really most in his element at his kitchen table with a cup of reheated coffee, sharing some baked goods someone had delivered. He’d show you a book about the Leach Pottery and St. Ive’s; he’d put an ancient Japanese vessel from Hagi in your hand, a favorite, and he’d remind you of its significance in his life.

A studio potter from Stillwater, Minnesota, Warren MacKenzie was an apprentice to Bernard Leach at the St. Ives pottery in the UK from 1949 to 1952. MacKenzie, and his wares, are celebrated for popularizing the Japanese Mingei style of ceramics—often called Mingei-sota—in reference to the myriad of potters in Minnesota inspired by MacKenzie’s work, aesthetic, and attitude toward making. 

MacKenzie had a strong and lasting legacy as an educator and his influence can be seen through many generations of ceramic artists. In 1952, he began his tenure at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, where he was later recognized as a Regents’ Professor Emeritus, and in 2015 was awarded the Honorary Degree: Doctor of Humane Letters from the College of Liberal Arts. His students from the university setting and beyond are innumerable, but the roster includes such notable artists as Wayne Branum, Dick Cooter, Guillermo Cuellar, Nancy d’Estang, Barbara Diduk, Ron Gallas, Marlene Jack, Shirley Johnson, Randy Johnston, Maren Kloppmann, Jan McKeachie Johnston, Mike Norman, Jeff Oestreich, Mark Pharis, Michael Simon, Sandy Simon, and countless others, all of whom have gone on to teach and/or inspire more generations of makers, expanding the Mingei-sota reach.

MacKenzie was bestowed with the title of Regis Master by Northern Clay Center in 1997, in honor of his influence on 20th Century ceramics. Well into his 90s, he was actively making pots daily from his home studio in Stillwater, Minnesota.

MacKenzie was a long-time member and supporter of NCC since its inception in 1991. In 2014, in honor of his legacy of ceramic education—in both traditional and non-traditional settings—NCC created the Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award to provide opportunities for students and emerging artists to continue their ceramic research and education for a period of up to twelve consecutive months. To date, the award has granted over $37,275 to support the work of emerging artists.

A few of the countless individuals whose lives were touched and inspired by the great Warren MacKenzie share their words and images in his honor, viewable here:


NCC is making plans to publicly honor Warren Mackenzie—the date, details, and format will be shared in the future. NCC has long had plans in place to honor Warren’s 'pots for the people' philosophy during the National Council on the Education for the Ceramic Arts Conference—NCECA—being held in Minneapolis March 25 - 30, 2019. As such, we'll included his work in one of NCC’s NCECA concurrent exhibitions, on view March 8 - April 24. In Service: Engaging and Connecting through Clay will underscore a growing trend in the craft field: creating opportunities for social engagement through the process of making. Warren’s work will join that of a few other meaningful makers and movements in clay. We’ll trace Warren’s family tree in clay, the seeds of which he planted; we’ll feature many of his gorgeous pots. Stay tuned to NCC’s website and social media pages for forthcoming information.

There is so much already written and recorded about Warren's amazing life. If you never heard from Warren’s lips one of his stories, I am sorry. Yes, his pots will outlive most of us, but for me, those stories will resonate for all of time.

NCC has assembled a modest list, below, a sampling of the many beautiful texts and videos featuring the creative contributions of MacKenzie. We encourage you to spend some time with these resources. 

Sarah Millfelt
Executive Director

Resources:

  1. Warren MacKenzie: 1999 Distinguished Artist Award catalogue, courtesy of the McKnight Foundation
  2. Warren MacKenzie American Potter, by David Lewis (book, available in NCC's library and sales gallery)
  3. Warren MacKenzie demonstrating at NCC’s MEA Art Educators’ Weekend, 2016, recorded by Austen Browne (video)
  4. MN Original (video)
  5. Warren MacKenzie: A Potter’s Hands (video), directed by Mark Lambert
  6. Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award Recipients Blog (text)
  7. Craft in America, Crossroads episode (video) 
  8. NCECA Remembers Warren Mackenzie, co-authored by Sarah Millfelt, Executive Director, NCC and Rhonda Willers, artist and Steward of the Board, NCECA