"Mingeisota" can be just a clever tag, a simple way of referring to Warren MacKenzie and the many other potters in Minnesota who combine a commitment to the Anglo-Asian ceramic tradition of Leach and Hamada with a Midwestern devotion to straightforward utilitarian ware. Yet in the case of Lee Love the term may have greater validity, since Love is a kind of one-man bridge between Japan and the United States.
Born in Japan to an American father and a Japanese mother, Love did not grow up or do his undergraduate education in Minnesota; that took place in Michigan (which does not offer the same punning possibilities). He came to Minnesota because of the presence of the master at the Zen Center, Katagiri Roshi. But after the Roshi's death, and bearing in mind statements by both a Zen master and a Tibetan one that suggested artistic creativity could provide its own path to enlightenment, Love turned to ceramics. He took classes at the University with Curt Hoard and Mark Pharis-Linda Sikora was a teaching assistant-and then worked in a studio space at Northern Clay Center. Eventually Love became an apprentice for three years in Mashiko, Japan, with Living National Treasure (and Regis Master) Tatsuzo Shimaoka, then stayed on for five years more with his wife, Jean, a printmaker and the person who first introduced him to MacKenzie's ceramics.
Love seems unusually clear about his relationship to the Mingei tradition. Like MacKenzie, Love is not nostalgic; he is committed to making functional pottery that is of its place and time. He says that if he were working in earthenware, he would turn elsewhere for inspiration-to Europe, or Native American pottery. But in stoneware, he believes the greatest achievements have been in Japan, Korea, and China. Love is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary Japanese ceramic culture, and he has been steadily developing his own personal approach. That means working through the influences of the artists he reveres and establishing his own view of Mingei, which stresses the role of nature.
Love's McKnight year has been a period of settling back into life in the Twin Cities and becoming an American potter once again. In practical terms, that means finding clays and glazes equivalent to those he was using in Japan. The process can be complicated. What is referred to as shino in the United States, for example, is not the same as what goes by that name in Japan (and is not regarded by Japanese as shino, just as no Frenchman would regard even the finest California sparkling wine as true champagne).
So far, however, so good. Love .has been finding suitable local materials, and exploring a variety of forms and surface treatments. He believes that Japanese culture, and Japanese ceramics, are more delicate than the American, and says he has been developing "more robust" works. On the other hand, Love's years in Japan gave him a more precise knowledge of tea ceremony ceramics, and he is working to create tea vessels that are not tea bowls in a vague sense, as is sometimes the case in America, but satisfy the more stringent requirements of the tea ceremony as practiced in Japan.
Impressed by the catalogue for an exhibition by Hamada, who displayed seventy-seven cups for his seventy-seventh birthday, Love will present fifty-five cups for his fifty-fifth birthday. The tea ceremony bowl is the ceramic equivalent of a sonnet: a small-scale, seemingly constricted form that challenges the artist to go beyond mere technical virtuosity and find an approach that both satisfies and transcends
Love is already looking forward to pursuing other ideas: working on a larger scale; making funerary urns (he has so far done one for a friend, and a few others for dogs); finishing the transformation of his garage into a studio, where he might teach ceramics to neighborhood children. Love is also planning to sell mugs at the local farmers market, an idea that may show a touch of Zen in its simple practicality, but is also just so...Mingeisota.