From brain surgery to fine artLocal couple featured on national TV

By on October 12, 2011

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff, Staff Writer

Cliff Lee's Lotus Vase with Flower (2009) was inspired by the many trips he made with his family to the National Palace Museum in Taipei.Cliff Lee's Lotus Vase with Flower (2009) was inspired by the many trips he made with his family to the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

Clay Township will be in the national spotlight next week.

Local artists Cliff and Holly Lee will be featured along with three other families of craft artists on the next installment of the Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning documentary series Craft in America, the Family episode, which premieres nationwide on PBS on Oct. 17 at 10 p.m.

During their travels to discrete corners of the country in pursuit of that unique, perfect object or setting that will infuse life with beauty and meaning, Craft in America stumbled upon the 18th century Dutch farmhouse in Clay Township where the Lees live and work , using tradition and invention as their foundation.

As a ceramist, Cliff creates intricate porcelain vessels. Using a potter’s wheel, he carves and sculpts, combining traditional Chinese techniques with his own methods. Through scientific research and experimentation, he rediscovers glaze recipes that date back hundreds of years.

His wife, Holly, is a metal artist with a respect for nature. She makes jewelry out of gold, silver and precious stone, often drilling or piercing the metal to create a sense of light passing through space.

Using his own hands for intricate work is something Cliff has been doing since shortly after he arrived in the country from Taiwan in the late 1960s — only then it was not as an artist, but as a successful neurosurgeon.

"I came to the U.S. to be a college student, to go to medical school," he said. His parents had aspirations of their son becoming a doctor.

"I discovered I liked doing art more," added the craftsman, who was introduced to ceramics by a patient when he had been practicing medicine for five years. "I’m still on sabbatical after 32 years. I love what I do now."

Although success is evident as collectors come to the Lees’ showroom from all over the world to see the rare work created by the couple, Cliff attributes his success partially to the environment he has been immersed in for the past 20 years.

"I like living in Clay Township," he said. "I enjoy the peace and quiet; it’s very beautiful and inspirational and helps with creativity."

The Lees have two sons who grew up playing in their parents’ studios, learning the hard work it takes to succeed as a self-employed artist.

Cliff has displays in major museums, including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum this past March through July, for which he was interviewed by Voice of America, the official external broadcast institution of the U.S. federal government. Also, just this past week three pieces of his work were delivered to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The two enjoy and appreciate the opportunity for exposure and to share their form of expression with the rest of the country. However, in Cliff’s eyes the most important component of a show like Craft in America is that of educating present and future creators.

"We really need a program about this to encourage people to do art," he said.

About Ephrata Review