We hear from 15 of 90-year-old potter Warren MacKenzie's former students.more
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Cynthia Bringle: Determined to be Seen
Cynthia Bringle doesn't hesitate to take center stage at the potter's wheel. As one of the first female clay artists to set up shop in the Memphis area in the 1960s, Bringle found that inviting curious members of the community into her studio to watch her work was the best way to gain acceptance and patrons. As a woman earning her living making pottery when being a wife and mother was the norm, she faced challenges and naysayers. But Bringle never lost her confidence or doubted her calling in life.
"This is what I like doing," she explains. "I decided to do it and never thought about all the things you had to go through to make it work."
In 1970 Bringle moved her studio to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, where she had spent summers teaching workshops. Norm Schulman, a fellow craft artist and friend, wrote of Bringle's self-reliance, her rapport with young potters, and overall conviction in our June 1977 feature, aptly titled "Potter of Penland." Thirty-four years later, Bringle is still at work in the same Penland studio on a variety of projects - from porcelain bowls and stoneware pitchers to larger raku vessels. Residents and tourists still come to watch her work and chat about the finer points of clay and life.
A passionate educator to this day, Bringle always makes time to be a student herself. Taking classes in woodworking, papermaking, and flameworking, she has a seemingly endless desire to learn new skills because, as she says, "they get me out of my own space and allow me to communicate in a different way with a different material." Yet, she points out, when people catch sight of a bench or painting she has created, they can recognize it as uniquely hers. It is this distinctiveness in her work and her dedication as a craftsperson that have
led to many honors for Bringle, named a North Carolina Living Treasure in 2009.
In the future, Bringle says she wants "to just keep making work that excites me. If it doesn't excite me when I've made it, I'm not going to put it in the kilns. I tell people, ‘Look at history; what has remained is clay. If it's not good to begin with, don't fire it - because it will be around forever.' "
Jessica Shaykett is the American Craft Council librarian.