Warren MacKenzie, 1924-2018

I was reminded by ceramic artist, Sally Michener who provided the featured image of MacKenzie, that he lived to be 94!   That is a staggering accomplishment.  Sally also mentions often that it takes bravery to live a long life.  Very true.  Sally was a student of MacKenzie’s when she was working as a social worker in Minneapolis, a time before she went to study for her MFA.  In fact, he fostered her love of clay.  Sally hoped to visit him this year.  Instead, I imagine, that she is so grateful for those times that she was able to spend with him.  MacKenzie was a role model to so many lives.  His teaching was inspirational, and it was a testament to his patience and generosity that he shared his knowledge freely with anyone that had queries.  He did not hide it away.

MacKenzie produced functional ware, and he did not apologise for it!  The tableware that he threw on his Leach style kick wheel – the jugs, mugs, salad bowls, soup bowls, plates, and teapots were purchased by generations of enthusiastic clients.    Those pieces enriched the daily lives of all who used them in the way that Bernard Leach and Soetsu Yanagi imagined – the marriage of beauty and functionality giving joy to the user. It is said that a little corner of Minnesota was renamed ‘Mingei-sota’ in recognition of MacKenzie’s debt to the Mingei movement promoted by Leach, Yanagi, and Hamada.  MacKenzie desired is to create the best functional work that he could by repeating shapes over and over again.  For him, like so many others, throwing was meditative, something that he learned from Hamada.  His work is, as many say, the antithesis of that of a throwaway society.  He never succumbed to calling himself an ‘artist’, setting himself apart from those that created work to be useful.  Indeed, he fought to curb the rising price of his work.  His profound belief that people should be able to enjoy his pots just as much as collectors led him to attempt to control the price of his work and the amount that individuals could purchase. He did this so that profiteers would not accumulate stock and sell it on one of the online auction sites marked up ten or twenty times the purchase price.

MacKenzie was very humble.  As a young student at the Art Institute of Chicago, he acquired a copy of Leach’s A Potter’s Book.  He believed that it was possible to join artistic expression and good design with functionality; in fact, this served him well for the more than sixty years he worked as a potter out of his studio in Stillwater, Minnesota. Warren MacKenzie lived to an incredible age leaving beautiful, functional work for all of us to enjoy along with all of the students who themselves have become teachers and mentors.  He left the world a better place.

Elise Siegel

Elise Siegel came to Canada in 1972.  She is remembered fondly by her former instructors including Sally Michener and Tam Irving at the Vancouver School of Art and her friends.  Siegel had transferred from the University of Chicago where she had studied ceramics with Ruth Duckworth.  While Siegel was openly opposed to the Vietnam War, she says that it was not the defining reason she came to Canada.  She became a Canadian citizen during her ten-year stay.

After graduating Siegel set up studios along with a group of friends at the corner of Maple Avenue and 4th Avenue in Vancouver.  The group built a communal two-chamber gas kiln in the parking lot.  The front chamber was a four-burner downdraft LPG kiln while the second chamber, which operated as a chimney behind the first chamber was also the bisque kiln (used the run-off heat from the front chamber).  It is amazing what you could do in the 1970s!  And how wonderful for this group of young people that they pushed the limits of their understanding of kiln building right in the heart of Vancouver.  Along with Suzu Matsuda and Larry Cohen, Siegel formed a collective and an open store/exhibition space at the site which they called Kitsilano Pottery.  The cooperative adventure lasted for several years with each sharing responsibilities.  During this same time, Siegel was also busy making functional tableware for a number of Greek restaurants within Vancouver.  Siegel was also part of the Outreach Faculty of the Vancouver School of Art.  She travelled to outlying northern communities to present ceramics workshops to adults.

Siegel slowly moved from vessels to sculpture.  For a while, she continued to use clay as the main medium for her work but she branched out experimenting with other materials that were not specifically tied to ceramic traditions.  She returned to clay in the late 1990s.  She says, “If there is a thread that still connects my current work to the pots I was making after art school, it would be an intense awareness of the tactile responsiveness and immediacy of clay as a material”.

Today, Siegel has her studio in New York City.  She taught both undergraduate and graduate ceramics at the Pratt Institute between 2008-11 and has taught at Greenwich House Pottery since 1985.

Article I wrote on three Vietnam Era Ceramists appears in Toplerflatt in English!

My good friend Gunter Haltmeyer is charged with the digital layout of the German Potter’s Association journal, Toplerflatt.  He does one fantastic job, and I am always so grateful that the members welcome news of what is happening in Canada.  

The fall/winter edition includes an article I wrote on the work of three Vietnam era ceramic artists who migrated to Canaday.  They are Sally Michener who taught at the Vancouver School of Art (later Emily Carr), Debby Black who taught at George Brown College in Toronto, and Richard Gill who taught at various colleges but he is known mainly for his large and very complicated architectural installations.  

Gunter sent me the PDF and hard copies to share with the ceramists.  Those who read my blog and my Facebook page do not (with the exception of one) belong to this potters association.  I do not want to take away any issues regarding copyright or sales. 

The link is below.  Click on steggles:

steggles_ tb_2017_2_final

Vietnam Era Resisters Research

I received a Canada Council Jean A Chalmers Grant to conduct research into the impact that Vietnam era resisters who came to Canada had on Canadian ceramics.  To date, there are 117 individuals in my study.  Conference presentations have been given in Dublin, at the University of Szeged in Hungary, and at the first Craft Biennale at the Art Gallery of Burlington.  Articles are in press and exhibitions are being planned.  I am still seeking individuals who fit my profile:  came to Canada because they did not wish to be part of the support for the Vietnam War and who were already trained in ceramics or learned after they immigrated in order to make a living.  If you know of someone, please have them contact me at my university e-mail address:  maryann.steggles@umanitoba.ca

The image on today’s posting is Walter Ostrom’s China Bottle.  Ostrom came to Canada because of the Vietnam War in 1969.  He had a contract to teach at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax.  Ostrom was elated because he would be teaching at one of the hippest art schools in North America but also because he was going to be living in Canada:  ‘The land of Pierre Trudeau, a friend of both Castro and draft dodgers, leading a nation of peaceniks’.