Editor's note: Find Part I of this essay in Vol. 43 No. 2, Summer/Fall 2015.
In the study of early human settlements and trade, examining the development of ceramic production toward greater cultural and technological sophistication is highly enlightening. Thousands of years ago, production and use of the first clay pots, likely made in Japan or China during the Neolithic era, spread widely. Pottery became central to traditional societies and their economies. At first, pots made life more sustainable by safely storing seeds and food. Later, pots enabled trade; they made it practical to move foodstuffs over great distances. Their surfaces and forms had the ability to act as cultural signifiers, and still do today, though less well understood than their utilitarian attributes.
Within this historical context, the Studio Potter Movement is quite young. Originally part of the nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts Movement, it took on a life of its own in the era of Leach, Hamada, Yanagi, and Cardew. As the Studio Potter Movement grew in Europe and the United States, it became more rooted in the world of higher education. By the 1960s, the Studio Potter Movement had established itself in university ceramics programs. Eventually, this led to a dramatic increase in the diversity and size of the emerging ceramics community.
Although those working in the Leach tradition hoped and intended otherwise, those buying pots from studio potters today tend to be a fairly affluent group. No matter how hard Warren MacKenzie tries to make his work affordable to everyone, his pots often end up mostly in the hands of collectors and people in highly educated households. Most of his clients enjoy many options in life. They choose to collect contemporary pots embracing Leach-Hamada inspired forms, forms that echo a life devoted to the ancient traditions of working in clay.
Not everyone enjoys access to this level of privilege, that is, being able to buy a pot made by hand to protest postmodern consumerism and destructive industrial methods. For years, I’ve visited the annual sales of MacKenzie’s disciples and spent time in the galleries where they sell their work. I’ve engaged their patrons, and it is safe to say the majority of them acknowledge an element of protest in their purchases. They crave association with something made by hand, the possibility of meeting the potter, and the more intimate experience of studio sales. Like most reading this journal, they live in a world of relative privilege. My level of affluence allows me to buy a handmade product and to take some time for reflection, but I’m part of a fortunate minority. Most living in modern society now drink and eat from industrially produced cups, plates, and bowls....