Warren MacKenzie: Boxes and Jars

March 5 – 27, 2022

Press Release

Warren MacKenzie (1924-2018) was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1924 and grew up in Wilmette Illinois. He enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago as a painting student, yet after serving in World War II, he returned to study on the GI Bill only to find the painting classes full.  He decided to sign up for ceramics, which was a fortuitous decision as he met his first wife Alix there and found his calling.  Together they made many trips to the Field Museum of Natural History to study ancient cultures.

Everything fell into place once he read the Potter’s Book by Bernard Leach which described how life and work could be intertwined, as MacKenzie has written, ‘with the goal being to make objects of utility and simple beauty’.  After his apprenticeship with Bernard Leach, who revived studio pottery in the Arts and Crafts era, the MacKenzie’s moved to Minnesota, buying land in Stillwater, where Warren established his studio in and remained for the rest of his life. 

MacKenzie taught at the University of Minnesota from 1954 – 1990, rising from instructor to Regents Professor Emeritus, then receiving an honorary doctorate in 2015. He taught generations of makers, not to be a copy of himself, yet to come up with their own aesthetic solutions.  MacKenzie, went on to exhibit as an equal, with both Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, the Japanese national treasure who MacKenzie found so inspirational.

After the death of his wife Alix in 1962 from cancer, he raised their two daughters Alix and Shawn while continuing to teach at the University and make pots.  In 1984 MacKenzie married the fiber artist Nancy Spitzer, who passed away in 2014.

MacKenzie was named one of the 12 greatest potters in the world by Ceramics Monthly in 1981.  He also won the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award in 1999, considered to be the highest honor for artists in Minnesota.  His name is synonymous with functional pottery

all over the world.  He taught workshops and master classes in the United States, South America, England, Canada, Scandinavia and Japan.  Warren is credited with making Minnesota the ‘Clay State’ or ‘Mingeisota’ as it became known, a play on the Japanese folkcraft idea of mingei which means ‘art of the people’.

MacKenzie’s work can be found in the collections of museums worldwide including the Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; the Minneapolis Institute of Art, St. Paul MN; the Smithsonian, Washington D.C.; the Victoria and Albert, London, England; and the Japan Folk Craft Museum, Tokyo, Japan.  He is especially beloved in Japan for embracing the Mingei Japanese Folk Pottery tradition.

It was a privilege and great pleasure to know Warren MacKenzie personally and show his work from 2002 until his death in 2018 and on.  To me, Warren MacKenzie’s goal was to reduce everything to the simplest.  When he achieved that—the work become elemental and transcendent, a great example of contemporary art. - Lucy Lacoste

View the digital show catalogue 


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