“Warren Mackenzie” Profile
In 1952, at the age of 29 years, Warren MacKenzie built his first kiln in Minnesota. Since then, he has been earnestly creating and producing pottery for everyday use with a kiln that can fire 600 to 800 pieces at a time. But it was at one point, some time ago, that MacKenzie stopped inscribing his work with his initials, expressing his desire to remain a potter, and not a name.
Mr. MacKenzie’s policy is to produce a large volume of high quality pottery, and to supply it at a reasonable price. From shaping to glazing, the entire process is done by MacKenzie himself. Most of his work is functional. Teapots, bowls, platters, and more are primarily designed for everyday use. He employs a variety of high quality clays from all over, and blends them himself in order to keep costs low. MacKenzie’s clays are very fine grained, and his products are reasonably priced, since the artist himself feels they should be.
MacKenzie’s views on pottery originated with his reading of A Potter’s Book, written by renowned English potter Bernard Leach. Influenced by this simple and practical book, MacKenzie became Leach’s apprentice, and lived with him in England for two and a half years, starting in 1950. Bernard Leach, himself, had learned to make pottery in Japan, his studio filled with Asian ceramics. In this setting, MacKenzie was gradually drawn to the simplicity and subtlety of this functional, so-called mingei pottery made by nameless craftsmen. Also there were quite a number of works by Shoji Hamada, known as the father of Mashiko pottery.
Following his return to the United States, MacKenzie met Muneyoshi Yanagi, founder of Japan’s mingei movement, and Shoji Hamada, when they stopped in St. Paul, Minnesota on a lecture tour. The two were promoting the mingei aesthetic, according to which the beauty of handcrafted work is derived from its utility. Among the many things MacKenzie learned through his interchanges with the two was that cultivating the craft traditions born of daily living enriches people’s lives. This led him to coin the term “Mingeisota” to describe his pottery style.
While continuing to work as a potter, MacKenzie taught for many years at the University of Minnesota, instructing more than 3,000 students. MacKenzie has held workshops in the United States, Europe and South America, and ceramic artists who share his views on pottery can be found worldwide.
It is one of MacKenzie’s best-known principles that buyers are only allowed one purchase each at his exhibitions. His character is such that he wants as many people to enjoy them as possible, something which becomes apparent to his visitors. People who want to purchase his works must go to Minnesota to do so. In the showroom next to his studio, works of other potters are displayed, with only a small number of MacKenzie’s pottery. Visitors who wish to buy his work are instructed by a sign to leave money in a basket in the unmanned showroom. Then they wrap their purchases themselves. This unusual system has been in effect for many years.
In May 1999, the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation named Warren MacKenzie the recipient of the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, which the Foundation established in 1988 to honor Minnesotans who had made important lifetime contributions to state and national culture.
The mingei aesthetic, derived from the discovery of beauty in everyday objects, and advocated in the lectures of Muneyoshi Yanagi, Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach in the 1920s, is embodied in its pure and natural form in the 21st century in the works of potter Warren MacKenzie.
In Japan, with a very strong pottery tradition, it is estimated that there are several tens of thousands of potters. A wide variety of pottery is made all over Japan every day by its numerous potters and ceramic artists. The Japanese have a great love and appreciation for ceramics, and enjoy using them. Gallery Shunn (gallery gen’s Tokyo-based sister gallery) has a reputation for attracting some of Japan’s best ceramic artists. In May 1995, theWarren MacKenzie exhibition was held at Gallery Shunn in Tokyo. On the morning of the first day of the exhibition, people—well known and unknown alike—lined up for hours, some having traveled quite a distance, quietly waiting to attend the noon opening, and the exhibition was a sellout. At Warren MacKenzie and the Midwest Five exhibition held at gallery gen in 2006, again, MacKenzie’s works were sold out in one hour.Brief Biography
Born in Kansas City, Missouri.
Enters the Art Institute of Chicago.
Apprentice to Bernard Leach in St. Ives, UK.
First encounter with the mingei aesthetic.
Builds kiln at Stillwater, Minnesota.
Meets Shoji Hamada and Muneyoshi Yanagi in St. Paul.
Begins to teach ceramics at The University of Minnesota.
Travels and lectures until 1990.
1995, 1997, 2001
Exhibition Warren MacKenzie
Gallery Shunn, Tokyo.
Receives McKnight Distinguished Artist Award from the McKnight Foundation of Minnesota.
Exhibition Nancy and Warren MacKenzie at gallery gen, New York
Exhibition Warren MacKenzie to celebrate the grand opening of Gallery Shunn at Nihombashi Mitsukoshi, Tokyo.
Lecture at New York University, New York
On “Japan and Its Effect of Contemporary Ceramics”
Exhibition Warren MacKenzie and the Midwest Five at gallery gen, New York.
Exhibition Warren MacKenzie: Legacy of an American Potter at Rochester Art Center, MN (to be toured to ND, TX, AR, CA, and MA.)