Warren and Alixandra MacKenzie, “Letter to the Editor,” Craft Horizons 13, no. 3 (June 1953): 44-45. Reproduced with permission of the American Craft Council.
A letter on training for craftsmen from Alixandra and Warren MacKenzie of The Saint Paul Gallery and School of Art.
To the Editor: As artists, potters—and readers of Craft Horizons—we are interested in basic education for young American craftsmen. Both Warren and I started as students of painting in one of the large professional art schools. We then became interested in ceramics and received the typical art school training in this field for three years. Upon graduation, with all of the ego of young art students, we went out to teach and make pots. But we soon realized the training we had received was completely inadequate in preparing us to be producing craftsmen.
We were fortunate at this time in being able to apprentice ourselves to Bernard Leach in England for two years. As apprentices we worked eight hours a day, producing the standard ware of the pottery in quantities of fifty to a hundred, in the tradition of the old pottery workshops. It was quite a revelation to find that the young local boys, without art school training, could throw with a sensitivity and freedom which would put to shame the average “artist-potter” in the United States. Out of that period of concentrated work we learned a facility which now permits us to throw from fifty to two hundred pots a day, depending on the size and shape.
As far as we have been able to determine, there is no such workshop training in our schools today. This may be the explanation in part of the relatively high price and limited sale of handmade pots here. Yet we feel there is a need for handmade pots, not as replacement, but as a complement to the best machine-made pots in the world. We believe basic reasons for this limited market are partly economic; but it is also due to a fundamental lack in the education of both craftsman and consumer: each of them has grown to expect and to appreciate machine perfection only. While many of us admire irregularities found in nature. we expect from man—a natural organic being—the perfection of the machine. The average artist-potter today understands “repetitive throwing” to mean a deadening of his work. He fails to realize that the classic examples we find in our museums from all cultures. were made precisely in this manner. Dead pots are not the result of the method but rather of the man.
In our own production we have no special materials or techniques other than those which have been available to all potters for hundreds of years. To use our materials in as natural and sensitive a way as possible is one of our main objectives, as well as a desire to supply a need in contemporary living instead of making for exhibitions and collections alone. Our belief is that a revision of educational emphasis is necessary. not only on the professional level but also in the approach to consumer appreciation. That there is tremendous interest and talent in America is obvious, yet the interested person must go either to Europe or Asia for the practical training which will permit him to make good use of his natural abilities.
(Signed) Warren and Alixandra MacKenzie