In His Hand

In His Hand

Published on Thursday, October 10, 2019. This article appears in the October/November 2019 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Mediums Clay
Author Staff
Warren MacKenzie postcard

Warren MacKenzie wrote and posted this note in his studio in 1972. It's now housed in the American Craft Council's archives.

Courtesy of the American Craft Council Library & Archives

Warren MacKenzie, who died last New Year’s Eve at the age of 94, was revered for the beautiful, functional ceramics he created in his studio in rural Stillwater, Minnesota, for more than 60 years. A modest man, he priced his pieces moderately so that people could afford them, and could touch and use them as part of daily life.

MacKenzie’s down-to-earth, generous spirit shines through in a charming note posted at his pottery studio in 1972 and recently discovered in the archives of the American Craft Council. Written in his own hand, and illustrated with a little drawing of a van rolling along the road, it explains that he is headed east to “pick up Tam” (Tamsyn, one of his two daughters) and invites customers to help themselves to his latest batch of wares, laid out in the yard and showroom. “It did seem foolish to store the pots over the summer when others could use them,” he wrote, adding, “Payment can be left in the basket in the shed, or you can mail it.”

During his lifetime, his stature and influence as a potter and educator (he taught ceramics at the University of Minnesota from 1953 to 1990) made MacKenzie’s work highly collectible. Yet he disliked when his pieces resold for much more than he’d originally priced them; he even stopped signing them for a time. In a 2007 interview with Minnesota Public Radio, he said he couldn’t understand why people would pay such high prices, remarking: “Maybe they were buying my name. Which, of course, is sad. Because my name means nothing. It will disappear. The pots will always be there.” He was, of course, right about the pots, which endure in countless homes and hands. With his other assertion, however, we respectfully disagree: The name Warren MacKenzie will live on in ceramic art history forever.