ELKHART — Dick Lehman has spent his 33-year career as a potter learning how to see.
Lehman has built a successful career despite no formal, traditional pottery training.
After graduating from Goshen College in 1976, where he took three clay classes, he worked a few years in administration and was a pottery hobbyist until 1981. That’s when he decided he wanted to be a full-time potter.
“I didn’t go to grad school, but I audited art and business classes and took a lot of workshops,” Lehman said. He also read as much material as he could.
He opened a studio on Second Street in Goshen and eventually moved to The Old Bag Factory on Chicago Avenue.
The studio, he says, sold a 100-product catalog of handmade pottery items, such as kitchenware and household items like clocks, furniture and vases.
In 2004 Lehman was diagnosed with a kind of lymphoma, which most people survive with for 10 years he was told.
Lehman spent much of the next three years undergoing treatments, including chemotherapy and two stem-cell transplants.
“It became apparent that my health was iffy enough that I simply wasn’t going to be able to continue running that studio,” he said. “So for me it was a choice of either closing it or selling it.”
Lehman sold the store to his apprentice and employee, Mark Goertzen, and still sells some of his own work in the store.
Following the selling of his business, Lehman said he was able to focus his work on pleasing himself, instead of worrying about the business production.
“After 2010, and I guess facing what looked like a very limited amount of things in terms of my life expectancy, I kind of promised myself that I would only make things that I really wanted to make,” he said. “And I’ve continued to do that and it’s not that I’ve stopped making functional and production things, things that would be kitchenware and use and serve and enjoy daily, but I think I’ve given myself permission to spend more time on each piece.”