New Year’s Resolutions, Sustainability, and the Birds

There was an article, “It’s Not That Hard to Buy Nothing” in the New York Times today about Elizabeth Chai who, at the end of 2019, before the pandemic, made a resolution “she would not buy anything in 2020, with the exception of food, coffee, toiletries (if she ran out of something essential) and the occasional service like a haircut. She would resist the urge to add to her wardrobe or to buy anything material for her home.” At the same time, she also vowed to sell 2,020 items. These actions were inspired by Chai wanting to live a more sustainable life.

Chai, of course, would not have known that the pandemic would happen and that everyone’s lives would be turned upside down. Even so, she continued with her plan to donate or sell things that she no longer needed or wanted. She came up with a plan. If there was something she wanted, she would put that item on a list and if, at the end of the year, she still wanted it, she would treat herself. She said she learned, “…temptations fade surprisingly fast.”

2020 was an exceptional year for many of us. Like Ms Chai, I spent my time at home. I was teaching my very last university class while researching and writing about the environmental impact of ceramics. At the same time I began to understand more fully the human impact on non-humans and it upset me. Greta Thunberg says that we can each have a profound difference – I hope so.

So for 2021 I will use Ms Chai’s example. Like her, I have lived within the walls of my home and over time have noticed what I need and how many things I have accumulated over time. I will not purchase any new clothes or shoes, no material objects for my home, and no new toiletries until I completely run out of items. At the same time, I plan to begin selling off my ceramics collection and my books. Monies raised from the sale of books will be donated to help wildlife in need.

Stay tuned and wish me luck! Ms Chai said that she felt so good about living in a scaled down environment and donating things. She also realized how much money she saved by simply not buying. She had a fantastic idea. Maybe you would like to join me in my pledge to now buy anything new in 2021.

NOTE: The Shino fluted bowl is by Warren Mackenzie and it might be the first vessel to be sold. I am looking at two commercial galleries to manage the pieces that I have.

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.