Kindred Spirits at Lacoste Gallery, Concord, MA
A first glance at Warren MacKenzie’s generously shaped drop rim bowl with swooping iron marks standing beside John Reeve’s stocky, bright turquoise earthenware covered jar might make you wonder about the title of this splendid show, Kindred Spirits, at Lacoste Gallery in Concord, Massachusetts (September 9–September 30). But the work of these friends—both of whom apprenticed at different times at Bernard Leach’s Pottery at St. Ives—represents a vibrant strain of American studio pottery that began at mid-century with the resolve to produce handmade, casual, and inexpensive pots that could be carried to the table, used for a meal, washed in the sink, and stacked in a cabinet. Both men developed a freedom and fluency with clay, and a sensitivity which was accompanied by deep modesty. MacKenzie has said, “My pots are really made to come to life when they have something in them.” Reeve, who died in 2012, talked about “some hidden magic.”
The two became friends in 1961 when Reeve stopped to see MacKenzie in Stillwater, Minnesota, on his way to Vancouver. The following year, they collaborated on a large commission at MacKenzie’s studio and soon after that they were together in England, where MacKenzie was on sabbatical and Reeve started Longlands, his own pottery studio. Later, Reeve taught for a term at the University of Minnesota where MacKenzie was a member of the faculty until 1990. Reeve has been referred to as a “gypsy potter,” moving from one place to another, including Canada and Cornwall, England, Oak view, California, Denver, and Abiquiu, New Mexico. He returned many times to MacKenzie’s studio and occasionally you will come across a vessel there with his R and reversed R chop mark encircled above the symbol for MacKenzie’s Stillwater pottery.
The show at Lacoste contains about one hundred objects, all made on a human scale, meant to be picked up and held in the hand. The curators have intentionally intermingled work by the two men, as though they are once again in conversation. Reeve’s pieces, mostly from the 1980s, are both classical and whimsical. He likes to build the body of his pots like little houses above a wide banded platform. His handles and spouts can be playful—this is especially apparent in his tall yellow vase with pinched ribbon handles that begin almost at the neck and reach down in squiggles. In many cases the glossy and highly reflective surfaces show off accidents as glaze flows down over irregularities in the clay, but the proportionality is perfect and the vessels are saturated with light. The many pieces by MacKenzie, who is now 93 years old, have been recently produced but they demonstrate the range of his repertoire, from faceted covered button boxes to dark and glistening tenmoku platters, as well as a lovely burnished orange teapot. MacKenzie has always valued the warmth that a well-made vessel can convey as well as its interior commodiousness. His three yunomis, tall and capacious teacups, are perfect examples of the graceful informality he is known for and which must have been the sound foundation for the friendship honored in this exhibition.