I had a chance to visit one of the finest potters in the area, possibly the world yesterday. Dick Lehman is having a pottery sale this weekend. Here’s what I came away with:
I drove over to his place yesterday around mid-day. I arrived just as it started raining, of course. They had some extra umbrellas available but I would have stood in the rain. There was another couple there when I arrived but after they left it was just Mr. Lehman and I. And it was fantastic. He explained how he made almost every piece that I looked at. He answered my questions. He showed me one of his photo books. He even offered to contact me for the next wood firing to see if I would help. And the whole time he had the excitement of a guy just pulling his first fantastic pot out of the kiln.
The rain eventually stopped and I got a few snapshots of some of his shelves full of amazing pots.
I also picked out a small wood fired cup to take home. If I wasn’t on a limited teacher’s salary budget I might have walked away with a half dozen pieces. I think I had 4 or 5 different cups or mugs in my hand at one point. I finally settled on the wood fired cup because I loved the texture of it. And it had some nice ash glaze drips. I also liked the soft pink color inside (which is difficult to capture in a quick photograph).
I wish I would have been wearing a wire or had my little audio recorder with me yesterday. I think I heard enough in about an hour and a half to write a small book. Or at least a few lengthy blog posts. The problem is, there was so much good information and visual stimulation that my poor brain didn’t have enough folds to catch it all.
From what I remember: Dick said that when he started, he was the only potter in the Goshen area with a retail shop. He’s been to Japan more than once and told me a few stories. He broke some cups on his way there so he placed them in the trash can where he was staying. As a parting gift he received his cups which had been repaired with the Kintsugi technique. Now they were more valuable than before. He explained his understanding of Kintsugi which is repairing broken pots with precious metals which can make them more beautiful or more valuable. He said that in Japan they tend to minimize the appearance of the cracks which could be partly due to the adhesive possibly having real gold in it. He likes to highlight the cracks so he puts on extra epoxy and then applies gold leaf while the epoxy is still tacky. He said that the story he’s heard was that a previous method of repair had been to drill tiny holes and use metal staples to repair broken pots. At one point an important Japanese? fellow said that there had to be a better way, the staples looked terrible. So they came up with Kintsugi. And it does look really nice. Dick showed me a couple that he has done, some with gold and some with copper.
He explained so much about wood firing that I feel like I’ve actually done one myself. He showed me examples of how slow cooling allows Â a more matte or microcrystlline surface. He talked about how different wood has different amounts of certain minerals which produce different effects in a wood firing. Â He actually started with the knowledge of what is burned off when (Chinese Maple?) is burnt and then chose a clay body to work well with it. He showed me examples of wood fired pieces that were glazed and pieces with only natural results from the flame and ash. He showed me how some were dusted with rutile (and ash?) before firing and what kind of results they produced. Â He named all the colors that he has achieved which included almost every color of the rainbow. He showed me some bowls made with a new clay body and noticed that one had recently cracked, possibly from the tension between the clay and ash accumulation on one side. He showed me two pots made with two different clay bodies, a porcelain and a high iron (stoneware?) and how different they reacted to the firing. He also likes to use (press molded?) little stands with points instead of wadding for some pots. Almost like the little stilts for low fire pottery. He said that they are easy to remove and leave very small marks on the bottom of the pot. If a lot of glaze runs down on a pot with wadding it takes a lot of grinding to get it off.
He also explained some of his forming techniques. He actually makes stamps out of things like plants, fish and insects! I remember him explaining his plant stamps but fish and insects?! He also explained how he made some of his square dishes. He throws them on the wheel and then presses them into squares. He uses a rib to add the extra waves. He said he even added the handles while still on the wheel. He undercuts the dish while still on the wheel with a pencil tool and then smooths out the bottom with a rib. So they are pretty well finished when he pulls them off the wheel. He said that it’s funny, now he tries to make things that aren’t round but at the beginning he made a lot of things on the wheel that weren’t round… because he didn’t have a lot of skill!Â He also explained a bunch of his glaze combinations that he uses for non wood fired work.
That’s about everything I can remember from about 2 hours at the Dick Lehman pottery sale. It was great to talk to him and study his pots for a while. Inspiration and knowledge for a while. Thanks for your time and your work, Mr. Lehman!
It’s not too late to check it out yourself! The sale is also happening today (Sunday) from 1:00 to 5:00.