A ceramic artist from Taiwan, China living in Stevens, Pennsylvania in Amish country, Cliff Lee (born 1951) is known for his intricate, detailed carving of porcelain vessels, many of them in teardrop shapes and with lotus flowers, dragons and other motifs reflecting his Chinese heritage. His specialty in glazes is celadon, oxblood and imperial yellows.
He came to the United States at age fifteen and took his early training in neurosurgery at Hershey Medical School in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In 1976, when he was twenty-five, he enrolled in a ceramics class in Harrisburg, Virginia at James Madison University. “There he encountered the two loves of his life—studio pottery and his wife, jewelry designer Holly Dobring Lee.” (McCarthy, 43) With her support, he left his medical profession and became a full time ceramist. With two small boys, they moved to their rural home site in Pennsylvania and set up adjoining studios in 1978.
In his new endeavor, he put his chemistry background to good use when creating his glazes, and “his surgical dexterity is evident when he carves his pots and uses tweezers to attach tiny clay filaments”, which he laughingly describes as “surgical implants”. (McCarthy, 44)
After some ‘toughing it out’ years, he had a breakthrough in 1990 with the acquisition of his work by the Smithsonian Institution. Several years later, his work received more prestigious attention with it added to the White House Collection of American Craft, Yale University Art Gallery, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the National Museum of American Art.
However, when success was coming his way, Cliff Lee had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and not only unable to create his ceramics but unable to feed himself. From this setback, he fully recovered and also modified his work habits so that he had less stress and more time with his family.
Cathleen McCarthy, “Delicate Transformation”, Art & Antiques, December 2006, pp. 43-46