Object of the Week: Teapot by Warren MacKenzie

Warren MacKenzie (1924-2018) began working with clay as an undergraduate student at the Art Institute of Chicago. Unsatisfied with the teaching provided by their ceramics instructor, MacKenzie and his classmates independently followed the lessons of famed British studio potter Bernard Leach after discovering his publication A Potter’s Book. The book, which explained how Leach had established his pottery and the basic skills every potter should master, introduced MacKenzie to the type of studio pottery he would ultimately make for the rest of his life. After graduating from the Art Institute in 1949, and still deeply inspired by Leach’s ideas, MacKenzie (along with his classmate and future wife Alix Kolesky) traveled to Leach’s studio in Cornwall, England, where they hoped to serve as apprentices. Leach accepted their offer, and from 1949 to 1952, MacKenzie absorbed everything Leach had to teach about throwing aesthetically pleasing and functional pots and running a successful pottery. While in England, he also met Japanese potter Shōji Hamada, another important influence on his work. In 1953, the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis hired MacKenzie to teach ceramics, a position he held until he retired in 1990. Also in 1953, MacKenzie opened a pottery studio in the nearby town of Stillwater, where for the next sixty-plus years he created functional pots. MacKenzie followed the Japanese mingei belief that beauty exists in everyday utilitarian objects, and injected this idea into the thousands of teapots, cups, bowls, platters, and plates he made every year. MacKenzie firmly believed that his pots should be used rather than exhibited, untouched, as art objects on a shelf. He emphasized this belief by selling his work at prices affordable to the average consumer. MacKenzie spent his nearly seventy-year career as a steadfast champion of beautiful and functional pottery. In a letter to Margie Hughto, Curator of Ceramics at the Everson, dated July 22, 1979, MacKenzie voiced his hope that work such as his would one day receive the recognition it deserved. He wrote, “I look forward to meeting you sometime and hope that you will be able to visit the Midwest and experience at first hand the work of the many people here who are managing to put some quiet expression into the utilitarian ware they are making. I am not speaking of Art Fair ceramics but of good sound pots which will prove themselves in the years to come.” Teapot is on display in Mixed Doubles through December 1, 2019.

-Steffi Chappell, Assistant Curator

Warren MacKenzie, Teapot, not dated, 5 x 7 ¾ x 6 inches, stoneware, Everson Museum of Art; Gift of friends in memory of Lenore Goldstein, care of Ginger Dunlap Dietz, 89.53