I fell in love with clay in college in the ’70s, every waking moment consumed by the potter’s wheel and the unpretentious beauty of old pots. I discovered A Potter’s Book by Bernard Leach, a champion of pottery traditions of East and West. I wanted to be a part of the historical sweep of traditional pottery.
Ten years later in Venezuela I began potting full time. Warren MacKenzie was invited by a local potters group to come and teach. MacKenzie had apprenticed with Leach in the 50’s and, beyond becoming a friend, he shared his studio with me and his appreciation of historical pots. From discussion, from living with his collection of great pottery, his library and MacKenzie’s own work I avidly soaked up the spirit of the old pots I admired so much.
I do not consciously design my pots with drawings or plans. I set out to make teapots, for example, and the making process generates ideas, each piece responding to the one before. Subtle variations on simple forms often result in dramatic changes in the character and personality of a pot. Small details, accidents, a dent, texture, an accent, a curve of belly, a kink in a handle may all have surprising results. Even when making sets, each piece, like children, will have its own character.
Clay is infinitely receptive and expressive; it records the character of the maker, the circumstances of making and the use given to it. In use our hands can sense every mark, every ridge and dent, left by the hands of the potter. Maybe that is why so many potters love to cook, it gives us an excuse to handle and appreciate these wonderful pieces.
Exquisite beauty can be found in pots made primarily for use. They may dwell more comfortably in a home, a kitchen, or the dinner table, than on display in a gallery or a museum. But to me their significance comes not only from the preparing and sharing of food but also from bringing that unique beauty into our daily lives.
Guillermo Cuellar was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela in 1951. He grew up in Caracas and in the early ’60s he travelled to the United States to complete highschool.
He studied ceramics at Cornell College, Mt. Vernon, Iowa, where he majored in Art, French and Geology, graduating in 1976.
After a three year job with the World Wildlife Fund in Venezuela he returned to pottery in 1980. In 1986 he set up a studio in the village of Turgua, an hour southeast of Caracas, where he made pots for sixteen years.
In 1981 he worked as assistant to Warren MacKenzie, who was teaching in Caracas and with whom he regularly shared workshop experience from 1984 to 2006. Guillermo has taught workshops sponsored by the Venezuelan Association of the Arts of Fire and assisted in those given by MacKenzie, Linda Christianson, Clary Illian, Randy Johnston and Jan McKeachie, David Leach and Mark Pharis.
His work has been on display in the Venezuelan National Art Gallery, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas Sofia Imber, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico, The Smithsonian Institution, The Northern Clay Center in Minnesota and private galleries in the United States, England, Venezuela, and Chile.
In 1992 he and other Venezuelan potters founded Grupo Turgua, a non-profit association of craftspeople dedicated to the support of hand made objects in Venezuela. From 1992 to 2005 Guillermo hosted twenty-eight group sales offering pottery, jewelry, photography, woodwork, drawing, weaving, Venezuelan native handwork and other creative expressions.
In 2005 he moved to the upper St. Croix river valley near Shafer, Minnesota. Here he established a home and studio with his wife, Laurie MacGregor, and children, Carlos and Alana.
In 2009 Guillermo was invited to participate as a host on the Minnesota Potters of the Upper St. Croix Valley Annual Pottery Tour after being a guest potter at Linda Christianson’s studio for the prior three years.
When not making pottery, Guillermo enjoys being on the beautiful and scenic St. Croix River.
“Minnesota Potters: Sharing the Fire” provides a view into the lives and work of eight Minnesota potters – four pairs of artists whose unique relationships celebrate some of the many ways that knowledge, experience and spirit is passed from person to person in this field.