Warren MacKenzie has achieved venerable status as a leading 20th century ceramic artist, yet his work is not high-falutin' art with a capital "A." Instead, Machenzie has spent a lifetime creating simple, dignified -- and always utilitarian -- hand-thrown pieces of pottery.
The Museum of Craft and Folk Art's new retrospective, Warren MacKenzie: Legacy of an American Potter includes casserole dishes, mugs and plates. Items that you want to reach out and cup with your palms. Items that would warm up a kitchen table on a chilly winter's evening.
MacKenize originally studied to be a painter, and created hard-edged, geometric work. But World War II interfered. When he returned to art school, the painting department was full and he turned instead to ceramics. He dedicated himself to functional pottery, drawing heavily on Japanese and Korean ceramic traditions.
The pieces on display at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art radiate calm through their satisfying heft. The curve in the lip of a teapot, the rounding of a bowl, the subtle fluting of a jar. Even the names of Mackenzie's earthy, muted glazes -- rust, copper green, oatmeal -- use language as familiar as the shapes he creates. And despite being so expertly worked, all of the pieces retain a strong feeling of earth, and damp slabs of clay.
If my love of MacKenzie's ceramics makes me a commoner, I'm happy to live with that label. In fact, I get the feeling from his work that MacKenzie himself would rather spend time at a kitchen table than in an art gallery. Just as long as he has a perfectly proportioned mug in his hand.
Warren MacKenzie: Legacy of an American Potter runs at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art through September 13, 2009. For more information visit mocfa.org.