Hosting a Studio Exchange:
Benefits and Betterments
by Dick Lehman
I have been a full-time studio potter for nearly 10 years, managing
a production studio, a retail shop, and a gallery.all under the same
roof. However, a large part of my undergraduate and graduate training
focused on ministerial and helping professions. And here in the US many
of the progressive parishes and mental health institutions provide regular
3-12 month paid sabbatical leaves to encourage professional development.
One result from these formative years of my vocational planning was
my belief that sabbaticals would be part of the rhythm of my work and
When I became a full-time potter, I rather naively assumed that I would
find some ways to offer myself regular "retreats" for growth and refreshment.
And in spite of all the harsh realities of a potter's life (and largely
to the credit of my own naivety), over the years I did manage to arrange
for a variety of very short-term breaks; and in 1988 for a more lengthy
two-month sabbatical to teach and work as visiting artist at Arizona
State University. (For a more detailed description of my Arizona sabbatical,
see "Planning a Potter's Sabbatical",
reprinted from Ceramics Monthly, June/July/August 1989 issue.)
But finally, regardless of one's need for refreshment and growth, there
are limits concerning how often a self-supporting potter can afford
to leave the studio and still keep the business afloat. Within these
constraints I began to explore the possibility of inviting other potters
to join me in my congested but rather spacious studio for blocks of
2-10 weeks. I did so on the presumption that if I could not afford to
go on sabbatical, perhaps I could allow the sabbatical learnings to
come to me.
It was in this regard that I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance
of Australian potter Audry Yoder Heatwole. Audry was anticipating a
10-week visit with a relative who lives in the town where my studio
is located. She inquired about renting, or in some way compensating
me for use of space. After some conversations we arrived at an understanding.
Instead of a rental arrangement (she did cover the direct costs of
her materials and kiln use), we agreed on a studio exchange: her studio
would be available to me in exchange for my studio being available to
Now you may be wondering, "What possibly could be the benefits of inviting
another prolific professional potter into an already full studio?" Well,
the benefits to me were many.
It was refreshing to have another professional potter around to offset
the relative isolation that often accompanies studio work.
Audry's presence was helpful on very practical levels: many were the
times I benefited from a second set of hands ("Can you help me here
for just a moment?"); a second set of eyes to provide helpful critique;
another sense of humor to appreciate a moment that may have passed me
Not to mention the way Audry generously pitched in on so many of the
nitty-gritty aspects of daily studio life: from answering the telephone,
to helping with sales, to occasionally tending the till.
But on a more profound level, Audry brought, and was willing to offer,
a whole host of other resources.
She shared from her graduate school experiences, her sabbatical at
a Japanese pottery, and from the multitude of other relationships and
workshops and techniques from which she has benefited over the years.
In vicarious, second-hand fashion I was able to travel all around the
world, to meet a great variety of other professionals, and to take in
the rich gleanings of a dozen workshops, all without ever having left
And how do I place a high enough value on the chance to share my own
work with another potter? Toward my own betterment, I learned much from
the opportunity and necessity of rethinking and putting into words just
what it is that I do and why I do it.
Finally, I must mention the joint and collaborative learnings which
came when we worked together on some projects knowledge which
neither of us would likely have gained had we been working in solitude.
The benefits resulting from Audry's visit have validated the worth
of our studio exchange agreement. I am already a better potter for her
having come to my studio, whether or not I ever get to make the trip
to her Australian studio.
And while the cost of flying my family to Australia seems at time prohibitive,
I am hopeful that I may indeed complete the second half of the exchange.
And I also look forward to the time when I may be able to speak of my
acquaintance with some of you, with the same rich memories and appreciation
that I have for my association with Audry.
From Audry's point of view:
In my privileged existence as a potter who is married to a "Patron
of the Arts", there are periodic times when my spouse is on sabbatical
leave and I have a few months in which to do almost anything I would
like to (or which I can afford). In the past year I participated in
a Studio Exchange.
I contacted Dick Lehman of Goshen, Indiana, USA, with a view to finding
a way that I would work in his studio for a few months. We explored
several avenues including: 1) I would rent space, 2) I would work part-time
for him in return for space, or 3) I would have free access to his studio
and at some future point he would have the opportunity of coming to
Australia and sharing my studio space. In any case I would supply my
own materials and pay for firing costs. As it worked out we chose the
latter option and I made my way to the USA from June to September, 1989.
I chose Goshen, Indiana, for several reasons. One was that I had met
Dick in 1986 and liked him, his philosophical approach and the ambience
of his studio setup. I felt an affinity with the aesthetics of the work
he was doing and realized there was a genuine basis for sharing both
our similarities and also our few differences. A second reason was nostalgic.
I had attended university in that town, met my husband there and also
had the privilege of living with a favorite aging aunt. So, other than
purely personal gratification, what were the professional benefits?
Dick Lehman's studio is part of an art/craft complex called the Old
Bag Factory because in fact that is what the building was at the turn
of the century. It is a large, three-story brick construction with marvelous
timber beams and solid oak flooring and space enough to house Swartzendruber
Hardwoods (a furniture fabricating business that employs 30 people),
the Lehman Pottery with three people and, additionally, smaller one-person
shops that include musical instrument making, decorated eggs, porcelain
dolls, children's toys, infants' clothing, and handmade chocolates (the
hang-out for those that weren't busy in their shops). In two equally
historic adjacent buildings were housed a blacksmith shop/antique refurbishing
establishment and a quilt shop. The quilts were in modern colors but
primarily based on the traditional Pennsylvania German designs coming
from the Amish and Mennonite communities. Goshen is the center of one
such large community. In the Old Bag Factory the majority of the craftspersons
were either still-practicing Mennonites or had been raised in Mennonite
homes. The effect of this was to bring an attitude of integrity and
dedication to the work, and although direct 'Pennsylvania German' motifs
were absent, the ethic and honesty in striving to do the best one could
was overwhelmingly evident. The studios were open to the general public,
both as work spaces and as buying venues. (As a safety precaution the
furniture shop could only be observed from a catwalk high above the
shop floor.) As one craftsperson said, "With the public watching, there
could never be any temptation to cut corners!"
And the public watching was a very important part of the day. Each
one of us in Dick's shop could expect to talk to the public frequently,
either in the sales room or the workshop. Particularly when throwing
pots on the wheel, there would be an audience. If we were only glazing
pots and preparing for firing, the public thought we 'weren't working'.
If all four of us happened to be throwing at once, perhaps we wouldn't
all be talking, but it wasn't uncommon for two small groups to be gathered
around two different wheels. For me this was the main difference from
my Armidale studio where I work alone and get few interruptions. I found
dealing with the public stimulating. Particularly satisfying was seeing
a youngster really excited by the prospects of what the creative medium
could be, or watching an adult increase in awareness and understanding.
We always asked where they had come from - and it was USA-wide and several
times from foreign countries.
In between times when it was only the potters, conversations flew fast
and furiously on what was art, were we making art and why we were doing
the things we were. Mostly these questions came from Barry a
recent Bachelor in Fine Arts graduate. Tom was a third-year university
student and I had already completed an MFA degree. Dick had come into
ceramics from an interest in clay, a degree from Seminary - he was to
have been a preacher and had learned his ceramics in the hard
school of having to make a living. His achievement in 16 years was astounding.
Another area of great value in a "Studio Exchange" was in the area
of skills and knowledge. Dick was researching and testing a firing regimen
and technique called saggar-firing. He graciously shared his expertise
with me and I was able to participate in kiln loading so that I too
could learn the method and experience the amazing results. In reverse,
I had had opportunities in my academic courses to learn techniques of
color inlay and was also researching color inlay in bisqued ware and
jewelry making in my own studio. This information was also shared.
For me, the best aspect of the experience was a work time in which
I could do precisely what I wished (and have the weekend off). I didn't
have to fill orders or work to someone's requests. I continued throwing
in a similar vein to what I had done for several years ovoid
forms and flatter plate forms. However, there were nuances in form variation
and in increasing emphasis on adding bases of greater visual significance.
Having access to a Venco pugmill changes one's perspective radically.
One never thinks about the time one has spent wedging, and the quick
availability of larger quantities of clay changes the scale of the work.
It's much easier to think "bigger". Also more time can be spent in glazing
and experimenting with overlayering glaze colors with a spray gun to
achieve visually rich surfaces. Firing schedules were frequent and experimental
work was expedited. Fitting into the rhythm of a production shop that
produces in the vicinity of 10,000 pots a year was a new experience
for me. In Dick's shop the floors were mopped every evening and after
each square meter was wet, it was immediately wiped with a dry towel
result: no clay haze!
Dick has a small exhibition gallery attached to his showroom which
he graciously made available to me in my last two weeks. Additionally
I had access to his computerized "Invitation to Openings" mailing list
and his extensive contacts with the press. The result was a successful
selling exhibition and the pleasure of having not only several of my
childhood and university classmates come in and say hello, but also
useful feedback from the buying public.
Back in Australia, I have returned to the same constraints and limited
experimentation time as previously. However, I am refreshed and have
new things I want to do. I felt the "Studio Exchange" was a most invigorating
and successful time, and look forward to the future when Dick and his
family can come to Australia for an experience equally as wonderful.
This article has been reprinted from the 1990, Volume
29, Number 2 Issue of Pottery In Australia Magazine.
© Dick Lehman, 1990. All rights reserved.