Along with his obvious influence on the pottery world through his own works, Warren MacKenzie had an enormous influence on the United States studio pottery world as a teacher and mentor. During his nearly four-decade tenure at the University of Minnesota, MacKenzie taught multiple generations of potters who went on to form a flourishing community of potters throughout the Midwest.
Teaching provided stability for MacKenzie, but it also provided a way to share his love of pottery. Former students have often commented on his generosity and genuine excitement about passing on his craft. One of the major tenets of MacKenzie’s philosophy was encouraging exploration in his students. He strove to provide a strong technical base while allowing students to experiment and find their own directions in the craft. Many credit MacKenzie with providing them with an “artistic vocabulary” or an “aesthetic matrix”–a jumping-off point from which to make their own unique pottery. Many of MacKenzie’s students’ pottery looks nothing like his–and to MacKenzie, that was the clearest sign that he had succeeded as a teacher.
Indeed, his former students range widely in their pottery styles. Some, such as Mark Pharis, Randy Johnston, and Guillermo Cuellar, have followed in his footsteps, becoming functional potters. Others have found their niche in the world of conceptual art, such as Maren Kloppman, with her wall installations known for their mind-bending explorations of space. Many have gone on to become tremendously successful, both as potters and as professors or instructors in their own right. Randy Johnston, now professor emeritus of ceramics at the University of Wisconsin River Falls, describes MacKenzie’s influence by saying that he “passed to us his spiritual wisdom and assured a continuous legacy in the generations of potters who follow his example.” This legacy was so notable that it was given its own (rather tongue-in-cheek) name: “Mingei-sota.”
Because of Warren MacKenzie’s legacy, Minnesota has become one of the hubs of ceramic art in the United States. Aspiring potters flocked to the University of Minnesota for his instruction, and many have stayed. Several students have followed his example, and formed their own potteries at farms along the St. Croix River Valley. Along with teaching, Warren MacKenzie was instrumental in building up institutions that support potters and craftspeople in Minnesota: notably the Minnesota Craft Council and the Northern Clay Center. MacKenzie’s part of the state has become so known for pottery that an annual St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour is held, attracting visitors and potters from all over the world, and is now on its 27th year. He once said that “there’s a number of potters who have gravitated to this area because they find it sympathetic to hand pottery.” While this is undoubtedly true, it is also true that a large part of the reason potters gravitate to the St. Croix Valley is because of Warren MacKenzie’s efforts in shaping it into a potter’s paradise.
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