|In Remembrance: Warren MacKenzie
(born February 16,1924 - December 31st 2018)
Warren passed away peacefully at the age of 94. Warren will be remembered for enriching the lives of many with handmade pieces of pottery, passing on knowledge to new potters, and inspiring people to artistically express themselves.
In his 65 years as a potter, Warren brightened the tables of generations. Since the 1950's his plates, cups, and serving bowls have made meals into special occasions. Perhaps it was a new guest who asked about the Warren serving bowl, leading to a conversation that brought everyone at the table just a bit closer. Or maybe it was a Warren platter that Grandma loved to serve from. The use of a bowl made by a human instead of a machine brought a level of appreciation to each meal. There is something enriching about eating or drinking from a piece of pottery that someone created for you and is full of memories.
Warren's artistry earned great acclaim and he was recognized by galleries and museums. But his love for making utilitarian pieces never stopped. He truly loved being a "mud man" and he loved making pots from which someone would drink tea or wine or even a splash of bourbon. Even as he made utilitarian pieces, they were never without expression and his gesture is evident in every piece he made.
His contribution to society did not stop there. His ability to stoke the fires of potters to go out and start their own pottery is most apparent in the Minnesota area. His willingness to share his knowledge, his studio, or even his home with other aspiring potters will become his legacy. The area has become known as Mingei-Sota, a tip of the hat to the Mingei art of Japan that inspired Warren.
America has lost a great Master Potter and American Treasure, but we have gained a legacy of pottery that will continue for generations.Warren Mackenzie, Master Potter
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.
To see a gallery of his work, I recommend visiting www.americanstudiopotters.com
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. Here are a few artists whom he thought embraced his traditional approaches, including:
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.
One such functional potter is Guillermo Cuellar. His pottery is just as beautiful and just as functional, and are very affordable. Visit www.guillermopottery.com to see his work.
There are a few pieces that are unique in form to Warren and some that are fairly common. Amongst the more rare forms are:
UPDATE July 2018: Pieces have become scarce. Though he is still working, the output is just a trickle. Historically, Warren would would stash a few pieces away from each firing and the chosen pieces would be set aside for galleries or exhibitions. The pieces sold at galleries were pieces that he believed best captured the aesthetic spirit he was seeking and deemed exceptional. Most galleries are no longer receiving pieces, or receiving very, very few. It may be that Warren believes the pieces he is throwing today are functional, but not 'exceptional'.
He can still throw bowls and yunomis. However, some pieces require much more work, strength, and coordination. As such, those pieces that are more difficult to make are no longer being made.
It is not unusual to see a piece sell for $2000-$4000 in today's market.
Sets of six (bowls, plates, coffee, etc.) are in great demand and usually sell for a multiplier of 1.5X. Low Bowls (larger Low Bowls, 4-5" high with a diameter of 12"+) have always been rather rare and are climbing in popularity. Tall Covered Jars (12"+) have also been in high demand. Covered Button Boxes, Teapots, and Drop Rim Bowls continue to be the most requested forms.
UPDATE January 2015: Warren's pieces have continued to climb in price. I suspect it is a function of a great potter, really an American treasure, no longer making as many pieces. He is going to turn 91 this year. He is still making pieces, but they are getting very hard to find. Even then, the larger vases and platters go very quickly. Yunomis are going for $120-$190. Teabowls are going for $190-$250. Small platters(14 inches or less) are going for $350, medium platters (15-17 inches) are going for $550-$750, and large platters are going for $900-$1200. Serving bowls are going for $180+. Teapots are going for $250+. Of course, most would say that his prices are justing coming inline with that of other potters, which is pretty accurate.
UPDATE: 2-20-09: Warren has always disliked the fact that people are paying a lot of money for his pots. Not to say they are not worth the amount, but he specifically does not like the fact that someone paid $5 for a bowl in his gallery and would then sell it on ebay for $70+. In an effort to stop the 'pay for the name' concept, he has started re-stamping his work. The thought process being that, as signed pieces usually sell at a premium, if all pieces are marked, then none will sell at a premium. I don't know how successful this will be. Suffice to say that some people who buy some pieces may believe they are buying an older piece only to find out that it is a recent piece.
I am always amazed by studio pottery. To know that someone's hand created a piece that I can connect with is quite a statement. To be able to interact with the piece on a daily basis through usage, whether as a vessel or as a platform, is a testament to the skill of the potter.
Read more about Warren Mackenzie here: