Images top to bottom:
Soup Bowl, ca. 1959 (with Alix Kolesky MacKenzie), glazed and white slipped stoneware with non-oxide surface painting, 2 1/2 x 6 inches diameter. MMAA Cockroft Memorial Fund, FCM '59,60.09.70.01
Vase, ca. 1959 (with Alix Kolesky MacKenzie), glazed stoneware: white glaze overlapping Tenmoku glaze with finger-combed surface designs, 9 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches diameter. MMAA Cockroft Memorial Fund. FCM '59, 60.09.19
Warren MacKenzie with Mrs. Philip Stringer, 1953.
“A potter has to love clay—disinterestedly—just love the physical nature of clay; he can do anything with it, but freedom of expression, even the honest use of materials, doesn’t necessarily make art.”
– Warren MacKenzie
Warren MacKenzie is one of our great Minnesota artists. His rich and sensuous ceramic pots have a humble beauty that arises from their utility. They are objects meant to be used and handled every day. In doing so, they bring a sense of the potter’s spirit and power into daily life.
MMAA is lucky to have over 25 ceramic works by Warren from the 1950s to the present in our permanent collection. But this museum’s connection with the great potter doesn’t end there.
Few people know that Warren and his first wife, Alix Kolesky, moved to Minnesota in 1947 to teach at the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art, the predecessor to today’s Minnesota Museum of American Art. Fresh from their studies in the ceramics program at the Art Institute of Chicago, the young couple was offered joint teaching positions at the St. Paul school, then housed in a mansion at 467 Summit Avenue. Teaching classes as varied as ceramics, sculpture, and design, they became immersed in the life of the St. Paul School of Art, starting up their own pottery studio and living in the school’s enormous carriage house.
After a couple of years of teaching in St. Paul, Warren and Alix convinced their mentor, renowned British potter Bernard Leach (1887-1979), to take them on as apprentices at his pottery studio in Saint Ives, Cornwall, England. From 1949 to 1952, Warren and Alix absorbed the Japanese mingei style pottery forwarded by Leach and Japanese potters Shoji Hamada (1894-1978) and Soetsu Yanagi (1889-1961). Characterized by clean lines, restrained decoration and glazing, mingei pottery’s form is dictated by its function. The style comes from a Japanese folk art philosophy that began in the 1920s and centers on the anonymity of craftspeople, hand production, and pots that are inexpensive, utilitarian, and used by the masses.
During these years, the MacKenzies were in constant contact with the folks back at the St. Paul School of Art, shipping back new pots to be sold regularly in the school’s sales gallery. When they returned to St. Paul in 1952, they moved into an old farmhouse in Stillwater, which served as their studio, shop, and home. Warren began teaching ceramics at the University of Minnesota in 1953, where he stayed until 1990. Alix passed away in 1962, and Warren married Nancy, a textile artist, in 1984.
While our connections with Warren MacKenzie go back decades, our relationship continues with new works continually entering the collection. We value our friendship with Warren and Nancy, and wish both of them many years of continued creativity and joy.
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For the fun of it, we found some pictures that depict Warren back in the 1940s and early 1950s at the St. Paul School of Art. Let us know if you were there, or if you recognize any of these folks! We’ve transcribed what’s on the back of the photographs, but if you have any recollections or memories of Warren at the St. Paul School, please send us a note using the comments form below and we will post them on a separate page on our website.