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The Hamada-Leach ceramic tradition is centered in a community of potters in the Midwest, whose work is based on creating traditional wares for everyday use, known in Japan as “Mingei". The Mingei Philosophy, as taught by Shoji Hamada, was brought to England by Bernard Leach in the 1920s. Imported to America in the 1960s, this aesthetic widely influenced the emerging counter-culture and as a result, modern design. Potters from all over the world apprenticed at the Leach Pottery and carried their newly-acquired aesthetics back home. In the US, Warren MacKenzie, Jeff Oestreich and Clary Illian were central to this aesthetic cross pollination – the concept that everyday handmade objects are honest, inexpensive and functional, and by this virtue, fill one’s life with beauty.

Warren MacKenzie, Drop Rim Bowl, Doug Hill photograph

Warren MacKenzie, Drop Rim Bowl, Doug Hill photograph

Warren MacKenzie is one of America’s greatest living potters and an inspiration to younger generations. Having apprenticed at the Leach Pottery, MacKenzie brought the Mingei aesthetic to the St. Croix Valley where it took root and spread. An inspired teacher, MacKenzie embodied the philosophy, impressing young potters with a dedication to the ideals of simplicity, serviceability and rough beauty.

Jeff Oestreich, Centerpiece

Jeff Oestreich, Centerpiece

Jeff Oestreich was trained in the austere simplicity of traditional Asian pottery while serving as apprentice to Bernard Leach in England in the 1960s. Driven to achieve a personal style, he overlaid this foundation with a passion for Art Deco design and a ceaseless exploration of altering and decoration techniques. His signature beaked pitcher is the refinement of a personal challenge to combine form and function elegantly.

L: Clary Illian, Tea Bowls, Collection of Sanjay and Jigna Jani and Collection of Todd Thelen & Eric Dean 

L: Clary Illian, Tea Bowls, Collection of Sanjay and Jigna Jani and Collection of Todd Thelen & Eric Dean 
R: Clary Illian, Luncheon Plates, Collection of Chris & Liz Delsandro 
Photos courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Tanya Schulte/AKAR Gallery photograph

Clary Illian’s apprenticeship at Leach Pottery in 1964 was intense and focused. Hewing to the Leach philosophy, her subsequent work concentrated on the purity of the pot’s form and the potter’s life – one lived with strong convictions and a pure heart. She continues to produce useful daily pottery for local customers at a reasonable price.


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Watch a 2 minute preview of Crossroads.


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Craft In America Educational Materials look further at Crossroads as a concept in craft. Visit the EDUCATION section HERE > to see what's available and download a Lesson Guide.

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We filmed artist Faith Ringgold for the THREADS episode. Learn more about the series HERE >

tv seriesLearn more about the
artists in the CROSSROADS episode HERE >

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