Harrison McIntosh Memorial
I feel very lucky to have known Harrison McIntosh. Even when I was a teenager during the 1960s in Pasadena, I recall seeing his work. I remember being attracted to the simple yet classic forms, the blend of Scandinavian and Asian that was described so well by Christy Johnson and Hal Nelson yesterday at the memorial.
Little did I know that, much later in life, I’d have the chance to get to know Harrison, much less get to represent his work, and know his marvelous wife Marguerite. When I first called and talked to Harrison, I was thrilled to make an appointment for a studio visit. As I stepped into their house above Padua Hills for the first time, it felt like a dream, to be welcomed into the home of a studio craft legend. I recall feeling like I was walking into the pages of a magazine. We agreed to a show.
When we first presented his work in a one-man show in 1998, there was a remarkable welcome from the other artists in the gallery. The most meticulous of craftspeople—including Adrian Saxe, Ralph Bacerra, and Roseline Delisle—all came to pay their respects to Harrison. Each artist took time to examine and praise the details of Harrison’s work; they lifted lids to show the precision of the fit, they turned the pots over carefully, to show me how perfect the foot was, and pointed out how every proportion was exactly right. Later, visiting artist Gustavo Pérez from Mexico wanted to get an autograph, and pose for a picture with his hero—whose work he had only seen in books.
But I represented Harrison late in his long and productive career. When I wanted another show in 2002, there were fewer new pots in the studio, and Harrison’s eyesight had, sadly, declined. I suggested that we augment the works from the studio with some classic works from private collections. Harrison agreed, but with one condition: that he would be able to examine them and approve of their quality and condition. Of course, I agreed. So, before the show, Marguerite drove Harrison to the gallery in Santa Monica, and I presented the additional work.
To my astonishment, he promptly sat down on the carpet of the back room, and felt—with both hands—the pots, carefully holding and rolling the forms, touching the incised lines—caressing the shoulder, the foot, and the lip.
If ever there were proof of the tactility of ceramics, this was the moment for me. I’ll never forget it. And to make it even more surprising, Harrison told me the year of each piece with perfect accuracy. Tactility is primal, and though artists often talk about the touch and feel of clay, that day Harrison showed me the touch and feel of memory.
As I said, I was lucky to know him late in his career. Still wanting to have all of his work recognized, I presented the late sculptural works in 2005. These were rounded discs, sculptural spheres, and oval forms mounted on chromed steel bases. The sculpture fulfilled a vision of the late twentieth century, no longer tied to pottery traditions, but developed from content and themes of unity—which had always been present in his work.
Titles gave these forms greater understanding: “Yin and Yang”, “Nature’s Union”, and “Mass in Space”, the works had a calm, balanced view of man’s place in Nature. Consider the form of “Raindrop”, a meditation on a single drop of water, a source of life.
It was the gentle spirit of the man that I will remember. His calm and balanced way of being was reflected in the work. He was a dignified, kind, and peaceful man, and may he rest in peace.