What Makes a Potter?: Functional Pottery in America Today

Editor’s Note: Author and critic Janet Koplos has written a new book titled What Makes a Potter?, due to be released on October 28. Pre-orders can be placed through amazon.com or at schifferbooks.com for $39.99 USD; however, we also encourage local bookstores to stock this important addition to the discourse on functional potters. Here Koplos details her process and motivation for such an endeavor. 




It was maybe ten years ago that I was talking with a book editor who asked what I was working on. I told him, but then said, impulsively, that what I wanted to do most was a book on functional pottery.

I surprised myself, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. I graduated from journalism school at the University of Minnesota, where Warren MacKenzie was a longtime professor who had talked to a class that I was taking. My first job after graduation was editing the publication of the Minnesota Crafts Council, which introduced me to many makers in the region. Even though I went on to write about the entire range of visual arts, happenstance later took me to Japan, where my interest in crafts was amplified. 

It was also happenstance that in Japan we lived a short distance from the Nihon Mingeikan (Japan Folk Crafts Museum) and I was able to be a volunteer there. Warren MacKenzie was known there, and Mingeisota was spoken of fondly. Back in the States, I fell into a pattern of visiting family in Minnesota and was sometimes able to time a visit around the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour.

All in all, utilitarian pottery kept its grip on me, even as I observed that most people gave more status to nonfunctional vessels.