As children, we were told not to play in the mud. For artist Lisa Heichelbech, digging up clay on the horse farm she grew up on was the creative inspiration that has led her to a successful career as a ceramic artist. The 44-year-old Evansville resident and graduate of North High School was mentored and influenced by Jon Siau, her high school art teacher. “With his encouragement, I chose to focus more on my art and he even gave up his planning time to create more advanced art courses for me during my senior year,” Heichelbech says. She continued on to receive her bachelor of science in art therapy from the University of Evansville with a studio focus in ceramics, and her art has since then continued to impact the community.
Her elegant vessels often juxtapose smooth, thrown elements with heavy texture. She has work for sale in galleries and studios in Evansville, Newburgh, Ind., Owensboro, Ky., and Henderson, Ky., as well as at The Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana and the New Harmony (Ind.) Gallery of Contemporary Art. Her most recent commissions are for Owensboro Health Regional Hospital and Solabron, a retirement community on Evansville’s West Side. Heichelbech currently teaches workshop style classes at Studio 4905 in Henderson, and will continue to expand her classes as the demand grows.
How did you first become interested in art?
My mother (Elizabeth Davis) is an artist — a painter — and we had a studio attached to our house. We had a printing press, painting materials, and even a darkroom. This space was always a mess of projects that my mother or I had started. But my interest was in clay. As a child, I recall digging the orange clay out of the pond behind my house. I felt compelled to push, pound, smooth, and transform the formless earth into a structured shape. I remember making ducks and little creatures that I would set in the sun to dry — when it rained, they would be washed away.
What was your favorite part about growing up on the horse farm?
Growing up on a horse farm in the middle of a cornfield allowed much solitary time to entertain oneself. That was not my ideal place but it did have its benefits. We had only a couple of TV channels, and I had no interest in the computer that we finally received … I read, went for walks in the woods, had chores I had no interest in horses after mucking the stalls far too many times, and I had time to create.
What inspires your artwork?
The majority of my work is inspired by natural elements. I attempt to capture the grace with which leaves turn and grow towards sunshine or flowers open. The contemporary elements I refer to in my artist’s statement are the wheel-thrown portion or the atypical glaze colors I use. I have also enjoyed playing with more structured elements as seen in a grid vase. Having been able to help my grandfather in his workshop is likely the influence for these. I even have a tool I use where the impression reminds me of bolts.
Are there certain pieces you sculpt more frequently?
My most recognizable or “signature pieces” are the Hosta Vessels. They start as wheel-thrown bases and the leaf parts are slab rolled and carved. I have used this idea to create several different types of vessels. Some are vase-like, others more bowl-like. While I don’t think of them for food service, I have had that request and have curved the leaves to form handles for easier lifting. I often get requests for specific needs and do commission work to meet demand.
Is there a certain theme you tend to use for your work?
A single moment in the growth process is suggested in my botanical-themed pieces and with a hint of contemporary design, I forge a bridge between the natural and mechanical. Much of my current work consists of combining wheel-thrown pieces with hand-built and hand-carved elements. It is important to me to have the human touch observable through the graceful lines and flowing edges within my work. Patterns, texture, and negative space are key factors to my pottery. Brushing my glazes allows me to use many different colors on each piece and overlapping them increases my palette. I strive to find a balance between form and function eliciting energy, peace, and harmony.
Tell me about your functional wrap mug pieces.
The “wrap mugs” grew from observing my grandparents’ arthritis in their hands, making it difficult to hold a teacup. After many variations, I came up with the finger holes and palm supportive wrap. These mugs are tedious to make but feel so good (to me) that I continue to make them.
What types of classes have you taught in the past?
I have taught individual classes and group classes, to adults and children. I have taught an after-school clay class at McGary Middle School in Evansville and a one-day workshop for the Ohio Valley Art League in Henderson. I have even agreed to do “girls night out” type workshops for parties. I have worked with those with mental illnesses, physical limitations, as well as gifted and talented. Creativity for all — they just need the courage, materials, and some guidance.
What’s the trick to conveying emotion through your pieces of art?
I tend to make pieces that are pleasing to the eye. I like to honor things that I admire rather than focus on social issues that disturb me. I imagine that my pieces bring more of a calming effect to the viewer or perhaps a curiosity. (I have a friend who describes some of my work as “gravity defying,” which I find flattering.) I do like to add elements that need a closer look to be observed or a surprise.
For more information on Lisa’s works, visit Studio 4905 at 4905 Timberlane Drive in Henderson, Ky., or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.