I have had two careers – High-Tech and Ceramic Art.
Ceramic art has not always been my professional focus. In my youth, I enjoyed drawing and sketching, and during my high school years I took fine arts classes. My father, David, was a mechanical engineer and I expected to follow in his footsteps as an engineer or scientist. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a BS in physics. I then moved to California to pursue graduate studies at Stanford University. There I earned my PhD in high-energy physics and solid-state physics.
At Stanford I planned an academic career, but, while designing and constructing the equipment for my thesis experiments, I realized that I was more interested in creating new, useful instruments. Thus, after Stanford, I worked with a colleague to found a new company based on the instruments I had built at Stanford – X-ray florescence analyzers.
At our company, Nuclear Semiconductor Inc., we successfully developed X-ray analytical spectrometers. These instruments were used by industry to analyze semiconductors and other high-performance materials for defects, by museums to authenticate art, and by academia for materials research. Tracor Northern purchased our company and, after mergers, is now a part of Thermo Fisher Scientific.
I was recruited to work for Raychem Corporation in Menlo Park in California, not far from my home in Portola Valley. Raychem was a material science company that created proprietary materials and products used in the energy, electronics, automotive and telecommunication industries. During my tenure in R&D, I invented and developed several conductive polymer devices that were used to protect electronic circuits from over-temperature and over-current conditions. This product line, called Polyswitch, grew to be nearly a five hundred-million-dollar business protecting mobile phones, small motors, automobiles electronics, and telephone equipment. Many of my 35 US patents relate to this new product line.
My final job at Raychem was as General Manager of the Medical Ventures. Of particular interest were the arthroscopic surgical instruments we developed using Raychem’s shape memory alloys. I patented numerous medical products based on this and other Raychem technologies. When Raychem decided to license the medical technology rather than spin off a new venture, I decided to move on. I joined Nellcor Corporation as Senior Director of sensor technology. Nellcor is best known for its successful commercialization of low-cost pulse oximetry. Pulse oximetry is a procedure used to measure the oxygen level (or oxygen saturation) in the blood. Over the next few years, I became Vice President of R&D for the Hospital Division, Nellcor Puritan Bennett (with sales of $1billion).
After Mallinckrodt Corporation acquired Nellcor Puritan Bennett, I decided to take nine months off for travel and to explore art. That led to taking ceramics art classes at the Palo Alto Art Center and Foothill College. When it was time to return to the high-tech world, I decided ceramic art would be a great new career. So here I am!
Now on to Ceramic Art.
From my earliest work on the pottery wheel, I was always fascinated by the natural texture that develops on the outside surface of the thrown piece. This occurs if you expand the piece, usually a cylinder, from the inside only without touching the outside. (This takes a little practice as most potters work both the inside and outside surfaces.) In this way the surface develops a natural grainy, geologic, or continuously irregular pattern. The surface can then be thinly glazed to retain the surface texture.
When I visited Japan in the summer of 2000, I had the privilege of meeting Shimaoka Tatsuzo, a “National Living Treasure.” There I saw his wonderful “Jomon Zogan” – rope-impressed inlayed work. I was so captivated by his textures that I returned home to copy his technique. Soon however, I began developing my own deeper textures, which I applied prior to expansion of the cylinder on the wheel. Although we have very different styles, I continue to use his work as inspiration.
This new technique (for me) took a lot of practice: How to get the texture to match all around the vessel, especially where it wraps back on itself. How to prevent distorting the cylinder when deeply impressing it. How to retain a uniform pattern during expansion. And many other issues. From this I developed textures and vessel shapes that I felt reflected curves, shapes, and elements in Nature.
Now after over twenty years, although I continue to enjoy the process and results, I sought new expression for textured work that was beyond the symmetric wheel-thrown forms. I experimented with altering these forms, incising the work, and other ways to break the complete form into space. Potter Bob Kinzie introduced me to the idea of creating large slabs from my textured cylinders and using them to hand-build.
After creating a few of the wheel-thrown textured slabs, I immediately was drawn to creating textures and forms that you would identify with stone and wooden structures created by man. The final ceramic forms trigger thoughts of towers, lanterns, and ancient buildings. I feel most of them convey a sense of serene, weathered ancient places and times. More recently, I was exposed to the fine decoration on Harrison McIntosh’s classic vessel forms. I visited both his retrospective exhibition and his home near Pomona. There, Harrison carefully explained his techniques for sgraffito and glazing. My work in sgraffito vessels now reflect his influences.
As I visit galleries and museums and review images in magazines and books, I believe I stand on the shoulders of many other artists. In particular, Gary Clarion, the supervisor of the Palo Alto Art Center, has strongly influenced my development. His informal instruction in basic ceramic methods enabled me to acquire skills rapidly. And his critique and suggestions are valuable lessons I use today.
Lee creates highly textured, organic surfaces on classic ceramic forms. Although functional, his work is often prized as decorative. He has participated in three solo exhibitions, 85 group exhibitions in the USA and 48 international group exhibitions. He is past president of the Association of Clay and Glass Artists. He is a founding member and North American Chair of the International Ceramic Artists Association headquartered in Zibo, China. Lee is a member of the International Academy of Ceramics – Geneva, Switzerland. He combines his ceramic career with his strong interest in Asian cultures by accepting invitations to several artist-in-residencies or ceramic woodfire festivals in Asia each year. This September/October he has organized a woodfiring workshop in Aomori, Japan.