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Warren MacKenzie, world famous potter, dies

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Bowls
Warren MacKenzie's work has been exhibited in museums around the world. His bowls were on display in May 2007 at the Rochester Art Center.
MPR Photo/John Nicholson

Warren MacKenzie's ceramic pots are sought after by collectors and museums, but he said he was proud of being able to sell them for daily use, on the honor system. MacKenzie died Monday at age 94, a family friend confirmed. 

MacKenzie led the ceramics department at University of Minnesota from the 1950s until he retired in 1990. He remained prolific after that, still working until very recently in his studio near Stillwater, Minn. 

His interest in utilitarian design was shaped in the 1940s, while attending the University of Chicago. MacKenzie and his late wife, Alix, were influenced by work at the Field Museum, in particular.    

Warren MacKenzie
Warren MacKenzie speaking at the Rochester Art Center in May 2007.
MPR Photo/John Nicholson

"The pots in the museum that interested us the most, and I emphasize that they were not the best pots, were the pots that had been used in people's lives and in their homes," MacKenzie said in a 2007 interview with MPR News.

He began developing his style during the 1950s, when the couple apprenticed in the studio of British potter Bernard Leach, who required them to throw dozens of pieces every day.

   "And it was only very slowly that we were able to develop our own language, not by consciously trying to do it, but simply by making a lot of pots and you are more satisfied with some than with others and then you try to analyze why is that more satisfying to you," MacKenzie said.

He was delighted that a show of his students' work was filled with pieces that looked nothing like his own. When the Weisman Art Museum expanded, he was asked to curate a new room dedicated to ceramics. Some visitors were allowed to touch the pots, to understand the work in a different way than from an exhibit. 

MacKenzie's life and work will be honored as part of a national ceramics conference scheduled for Minneapolis in late March.