As a painter I am drawn to Lee Wolfe’s colorful and delicious ceramics. She has been wildly successful in selling her pottery exclusively online. I am pleased that she has taken time from her busy schedule for this interview.
Lee has been a studio potter for 35 years. Her ceramic work emerges from the organic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains where she lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Lee’s work is vibrant, unusual and exploratory with voluptuous forms and woodland creatures. She creates beautiful, original functional stoneware pottery dinnerware, serving and home décor pieces. After all these years, her greatest joy is to enter her studio with a head full of new ideas.
Why did you choose ceramics?
Lee: I came to pottery making the way good friends come into your life; you begin a conversation that never seems to end. There is always something more you could say. As the years go by, the relationship deepens until it’s an integral part of who you are. But there was no moment when I chose to be a potter as a lifelong career. I just started and didn’t quit.
At first it was a hobby I pursued while teaching middle school in upstate NY. The school had a ceramic studio in which I made sculptural pottery in my spare time, storing pieces in the teacher’s lounge. Other teachers asked to buy pieces, and then their friends asked, and then one week I made more money not trying to sell my work than I’d made from my paycheck.
What is the most challenging (and best) part of working in your medium?
Lee: The best part of my work is that most of it happens in a state of flow (“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) or optimal experience. I’ve had to reject 90% of the wisdom people offer about how to manage a profitable business because I’ve made keeping the experience of flow my number one priority, not to be sacrificed for profit or prestige. That’s really just a high minded way of saying what most potters say: “I just wanna make pots.”
The most challenging part is the high level of chemistry required to formulate and fire functional pottery and achieve the aesthetic appeal of your inner vision. My prototypes are in development for literally years, struggling to get the look I want along with something that functions as intended and is also food safe and durable.
How does living in Asheville influence your art?
Lee: The sheer number of galleries was a vital support for me before I sold online. And the creative culture, pervasive throughout the city and surrounding area, is warm and welcoming. But most of all, the mountains and woodland creatures infuse my work with totemic symbolism.
What inspires you?
Lee: I’m driven by a discontent and rebellion against those soulless objects manufactured in oppressive working environments for corporate profit with which we are supposed to serve lovingly prepared food, create and celebrate meaningful family traditions, and gift to people we love. I love pushing the boundaries of my own skills and imagination as a designer and maker. Since the words “handmade” and “artisan” have been co-opted by industrial manufacturers, I enjoy the quirks in shape and glaze that could not be easily copied and reproduced in molds.
What are you working on in the studio right now?
Lee: My newest series is Arabesque, thrown vessels altered into a quatrafoil shape. I’m exploring the way nesting bowls of this shape radiate in arrows outward, and the way they create interesting negative shapes in side by side placement.
What advice would you give other artists?
Lee: I’d like to advise older artists and artisans to seriously investigate the new frontier of online art sales. I’ve found an unprecedented freedom in being able to design, make and list for sale what I want in the present without line sheets, gallery buyers, or someone else’s perception of deserving.
I would advise young and emerging artists to use the freedom to market trough social media and e-commerce sites with wild abandon.
Thank you Lee!
Follow Lee on Instagram to view more of her work, read her poetic writings about life, her process and finished pottery, and to stay current on here restock dates.