Obituary: America’s Warren McKenzie

Here is an obit on McKenzie written by Sandy Simon of Trax Gallery in San Francisco. She was a student of his many years ago.

Warren’s way of life and work touched so many. He was not without ego, as so many attribute to him, but rather he was entrenched in his belief of keeping pots affordable. He made no excuses for the pots; they were made quickly and forms were often repeated. He wanted people to use them daily. Warren was “Mingei” to his core. The word, “Mingei” was coined by a Japanese maker and author, Soetsu Yanagi, in recognition of The Unknown Craftsman, (the title of his book) which were makers of pottery sold and used without pomp and circumstance.
Warren made himself available to people, he took the time to return letters, meet with strangers, share his stories. I was lucky to have had him for a teacher, as many were during his thirty seven years at the University of Minnesota. Aside from Warren, or Mac, as we called him, the bigger part included our remarkable classmates in the late sixties; Mark Pharis, , Michael Simon, Randy Johnston, Laurie Samuelson, George Beers, to name a few. We were all energized and transformed by Warren’s warmth, his genuineness, and his commitment to making pots. He sometimes had us students over for a meal – I will never forget the warmth in his kitchen generated by so many pots by so many potters that he eagerly shared with us.
Warren was wrong telling us we could make a living without teaching, without getting our degree – “just do it” was his mantra long before Nike had it. We tried, then secretly cursed him for telling us so, yet eventually we each found a way to make enough money to continue to live and work in his way.
Many years had passed before I opened TRAX in 1994 in Berkeley, CA. I asked Warren if he would agree to a show. He said yes and he came and did the first workshop I had in our old Voulkos warehouse on the RR tracks. I was amazed at the response. It was before cell phones; I had to hold a phone in each hand to answer calls about his work. I had to rent bleachers to accommodate all of the people who wanted to attend his workshop. The response had me spinning. Where had I been? When had my old teacher gotten so famous? I really didn’t know. I continued to host Warren and workshops and exhibitions of his for the next 20 years. He would never ask me to sell his work at his prices. I bought them outright and he’d say charge what you want. Randy Johnston advised me to sell them at market prices as others were buying them from TRAX strictly for resale – nothing made Warren madder than this. For this reason he had to close his home salesroom. He realized he couldn’t continue to dictate the prices for his pots. The market for his pots was out of his control. He refused to take his share of any profits but rather told me to use the money to support the gallery so younger, less known potters could exhibit at TRAX. This was what I did and it was through his generosity that TRAX continued.
He will be missed but his legacy will go on. TRAX will go on.

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