Nature and Ceramics

Jim and Nan McKinnell were makers and teachers, with a five-decade career creating tens of thousands of ceramic works and teaching hundreds of artists. The McKinnells were nominated into the ACC College of Fellows in 1988, an award that recognizes leadership, ability as an artist/teacher, and 25 years or more of professional achievement. The couple had all of these in spades – they had an active role in changing the identity of American potters and American ceramics in the mid-20th century. Their innovations in ceramic technology and their commitment to teaching have provided a lasting legacy in the field of ceramic art. The McKinnell’s work was varied and extensive - while working both collaboratively and alone. When working together, one would shape the work and the other added decoration. Early in their career, they started signing all of their pieces “McKinnell,” whether one or both worked on the piece. Each still maintained their distinctive style.

Below are four pieces which showcase their artistic ability. While their pieces may not be synonymous with nature, as is shown below, the McKinnell’s did take inspiration from nature when it comes to their ceramic pieces. And it is not too difficult to understand why. Working with clay as they did is working with nature in one of its truest and simplest forms. When creating something out of the earth itself, it only makes logical sense to craft it in nature’s likeness. This can be seen in these three pieces below, two cups modeled to appear as if one is drinking out of a flower, a bowl with delicated impressions of flowers, and a bowl adorned with dolphins. Artist biography courtesy of the American Craft Council.