Lee Akins – Texas Roots and Taiwan Influences
by Kim Louise Glidden
Born and raised in Texas, Lee feels his clay aesthetic is influenced by seeing centuries of pottery during his early childhood years living in Taiwan. Memories of wondering how a crackle-glazed lamp had been “glued” back together stayed with him, and Lee’s interest in Chinese ceramics developed into a study grant to research and reproduce historical Sung Dynasty high-fire glazes. His inspirational sources include Cycladic sculptures, works of Henry Moore, Jean Arp, and Andy Goldsworthy, and early Minoan, Pre-Columbian, and Chinese pottery. Nature’s rocks and lichens, peeling paint, and even fashion magazines become interesting sources of inspiration.
Coil-building from terra cotta clay, Lee’s work evokes figurative imagery within the format of traditional clay vessels with a wide array of textural surfaces and colors inspired by nature. Once he has completed sketches, Lee makes a small three- to four-inch maquette and decides size for the completed piece. Over a week, Lee works on two pieces simultaneously, looking at the pieces against gray cardboard to remove surrounding distractions in his studio. His recent work strives toward an elegant organic form calling to mind historical vessel metaphors of the human body – a full lip, gentle curve of the neck, rotund belly, and broad shoulder. The resulting gestures of corresponding vessel parts create an animated synthesis of male and female, predominately female fertility figures of early cultures.
As a studio potter living in Rinconada, Lee enjoys teaching at Santa Fe Clay and University of New Mexico – Taos, as well as giving private instruction and workshops. He feels a good balance having time alone in his studio and being in a classroom with students who have different perspectives that lead to new ways of working in clay. Since receiving a BFA in 1975 and an MFA in 1986, he has been an artist-in-residence at The Banff Centre, received grants, scholarships, and awards, and attended workshops presented by noted ceramic artists Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, Toshiko Takaezu, John Glick, and Don Reitz during his 43-year career in ceramics.
Lee’s work has been in numerous New Mexico, regional, and international shows, including NCECA’s Continental Divide (a piece of Lee’s and one of mine were in a show together 11 years before we met) and Santa Fe Clay’s annual NCECA La Mesa Shows, and solo shows. The list is impressive, and I was delighted to see that his work was in a two-artist Texas show with Beth Thomas, who was my middle school best friend and now my forever friend and NCECA buddy! His work has been featured in the ceramic books 500 Bowls by John Britt and Electric Kiln Ceramics and Hand-formed Ceramics by Richard Zakin, as well as in American Craft and many issues of Ceramics Monthly. Lee’s work can be viewed at http://leeakins.com/ and his work is represented by Santa Fe Clay and Taos Clay.