Master Potter & American Treasure
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Warren MacKenzie pottery, gracing the shelves of some of the world's finest museums, is also touched by many in their everyday lives. An artistic expression that is a functional piece from which people eat and drink.
I developed this site in homage to Warren. I am not a potter, just a person who appreciates the struggle between function and form in design. I started this site to share what I believe is Warren's perspective on functional pottery. It is important that a visitor recognize this is only what I can distill from a few books and encourage everyone to read any material you can find.
It is this 'functional' aspect that first and foremost has become the legacy of Warren. How a bowl or cup will function: graceful, balanced, expressive, the anti-thesis of our throw-away, cookie-cutter, commercialized lives. At a time when it was important for artists to differentiate themselves, regardless of the media, Warren stands as an artist non-ego.
Too much art today is put on the shelf or the wall without interaction, a passive statement by the artist to be interpreted by the viewer. Functional pottery crosses this gap in that it is meant to be touched and used. Not an interpreted statement, but a conversation between the piece and the user.
Warren was not alone in the this discovery. With his classmates at the Art Institute of Chicago they discovered Bernard Leach's "A Potter's book". Though they had been taught the technical aspects of pottery, they lacked the artistic component. The want for expression was greater than the want for functionality. It was decided, perhaps, that a craft does not have to be rooted in a sterile function. That the intersection of function, design, and expression is where a craft can exist. Neither art and craft nor design and function are mutually exclusive.
Through repetition, nearly a meditative state, comes a sense of design. An understanding of volume and form replicated time-after-time to create a greater awareness of what a piece is and what a piece is not. This zen-like approach to art is not unique to Warren, but can not come without an external influence. In this case, Hamada. Hamada specifically, influenced Warren and Alix via Leach while at St. Ives. The concept of pottery without ego, for the sake of the craft, is what has touched Warren, Leach, and their legacies. Like Hamada, Warren has not 'signed' a piece in quite a while, and did it intermittently. Instead Warren believes that the pot he throws has become his signature.
On his journey was Alix (Alixandra Kolesky), first as a classmate, later as wife. No where was expression more apparent. She was the 'decorator' of the pots. Her nearly whimsical and simple decorations gave the pot life. Somewhere it is written that Bernard thought little of her design. Alas, it is also rumored that he was influenced by her approach, opening up to a more 'loose' design. Alix passed away in 1962 of cancer but left her thumb print in Warren's life.
Warren was also influenced by both Korean and Japanese ware. The 'unknown' potter that created such works did so because it was their function in society. The world must eat and drink. In fact, it is rumored that Warren's "favorite bowl" has been documented as being a simple Hagi (Japan) bowl from the 1700's.
From Bernard Leach also came an emphasis on production volume, a way of sustaining a pottery house. This nearly 'wabi-sabi', or without thought, approach coupled with standardization allows for inexpensive, daily use goods. Warren took this to a new level. Volume yes, but not at the expense of expression.
The American studio potter differs from the European and Japanese potters. Bernard and Shoji had a stable of apprentices, most of which did the standard ware and 'functional' pieces while Bernard/Shoji focused on 'Art' pieces. They also may have the stable focused on certain tasks like forming and glazing while they focused on design/motif.
In America, with our sense of rugged individualism, Warren and other potters balance both. Warren may make 25 yunomis followed by 5 vases. All designed, formed, decorated, and fired by him.
Influenced by some of the world's greatest potters, Warren has also touched those that he has taught. A legacy left to those to carry forward. In much the way that Bernard Leach and St. Ives has influenced potters throughout the world, Warren has become America's rendition of a legacy.
There are some very functional teapots that can be purchased from other potters for $80-$120. Besides teapots, yunomis and plates can also be purchased. Though almost all regions have a local potter, Minnesota has had quite a boom. Referred to as "Mingeisota", there are a number of potters who are selling very functional and pieces for daily use.
There are a few pieces that are unique in form to Warren and some that are fairly common. Among the more rare forms are:
Drop Rim Bowls: This unique bowl is created by literally building a high bowl and "dropping" the rim so it folds to the outside;
Boxes: Warren is magnificent at creating covered containers, usually 5-6 inches in height and width;
Barrel Vases: The vase is recognized by the swelling chest, creating the impression of more volume at the top.
The above pieces are pieces that, at least to me, stand out in his forms.