Remembering Warren MacKenzie

Warren MacKenzie died Monday morning at 94 years old. There aren’t a lot of people who are both potter and hero.

His friend, David Jergenson was kind enough to pen this remembrance.

When you’re a kid, you have heros- usually they are athletes, actors, etc. If you go to college or enter the workforce- in other words start ‘adulting’, your perspectives may change. In my college ceramics class, we learned about a potter named Warren MacKenzie. When you have a minute and you don’t already know of him and you aren’t too busy with being a kid, being in the workforce or adulting, Google him or YouTube him. You will find an honest, hard working, humble potter. He loved making pots. He loved talking about pots. He loved sharing his time with you- assuming pots were around and being used.

In 1998, I traveled with some other college early ceramics ‘pottery kids’ to Warren’s studio and gallery in rural Stillwater to hopefully meet him, which I didn’t get to do.

At that time, you could go into his unlocked gallery and studio space. I remember what a clay-ee mess it was and that his glasses were left on his wheel. It felt like I was walking into someone’s private church, but had heard that he welcomed people to help themselves to a tour. When I went into the gallery space, there were pots in rows on the wall for purchase. You would tally up the cost using a calculator on a side table and use the tax chart on the wall to figure out total and leave cash or checks and coins. It was the honor system. At that time, other potters were firing with Warren and I believe it that’s also when he wasn’t stamping his symbol on his pots. He did this because he wanted you to pick pots that you liked, not necessarily because he had made them. With the available newspapers and brown paper bags, we wrapped up our pots and headed out and that was that.

I am skipping many years here in the sake of attempting to keep these notes brief. Warren wouldn’t want anyone making a fuss.

Twenty years later and I have been able to make pots on Warren’s wheel, literally break bread with him, and fire in his kiln. Most recently at a yearly sale called “Pots in the Snow” I volunteered to be security for a few of his remaining pots because there are resellers (think eBay, Craigslist,etc.) who didn’t obey by some simple rules: pick pots that feel good or speak to you, use them, and enjoy them as they adapt to you in your life. And, that was the point of the pots and the sale and what Warren wanted. Unfortunately, the studio and gallery doors were locked at his home years ago. For profit galleries were needed in an attempt to have Warren’s pots, or two small sales a year in order for you to buy his work- which he would gladly have shared his time talking to you about!

There is this huge tree of artists who worked with Warren and now share their time and energy, and often homes and studios and fresh baked bread with people who share a desire to learn about working with clay. Or even appreciating pots.

Perhaps when you are a kid (Warren often had kid’s table at sales), or starting your adulting phase, or you are all grown up and know everything there is to know, you will have met a real hero. Someone who is kind, giving, talented, humble, and hard-working like Warren MacKenzie. But if you haven’t yet, Google or YouTube him, and you will get the gist. America and the world lost a hero in physical form on New Year’s Eve, but the coaching tree Warren left behind will remain growing strong indefinitely.

So people, go find your heros, and get some art along the way that you want to live with. You may even make a little meal for others and gift them a nice pot.

Thanks, Warren for all you have and will continue to give!

  • Lois Gaetz

    Sitting in my son’s kitchen in Wilmette, sipping a porter and catching up on the “news.” No idea why but this post reminds me of the little man who showed up in our driveway several times every summer, his old station wagon loaded with ripe tomatoes. He had a truck garden and apple orchard just south of Richmond, MN on the Chain of Lakes. His property was small and up a steep drive, which though short wound about bit. In September we were out there buying apples. In the 1905s you didn’t “pick your own” you brought cardboard boxes and he opened up a shed and the mixed scents of several different apple swept up and smacked your nose. He cut slices from a variety he thought our mom would approve of and we all chewed. When she settled on what she wanted he dumped his bushel baskets into her boxes. Some times he threw in a half basket of some variety he “wanted her to try, let me know how they were”. Mr Thom with your little wizened body you inspired me to want to be a gardener, I never made it the way you did but I did raise flowers that drew the praise of my then 90+ neighbors who couldn’t grown them anymore so thank you for the memory. And turns out the squirrels didn’t bite those eggplants every summer my son poked them with a pencil to avoid having to eat them!

  • tarry_on

    My parents, who lived not too far across the river from Stillwater, also made this mission a couple times, once for wedding gifts and I don’t recall what the other was for. Warren will be missed. (ETA so glad you posted this, Bob.)