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Always the Artist

Heather Lezla and her dogs

Photo courtesy of Heather Lezla.

Heather Lezla '91 is a ceramics-based artist and artisan living in Arlington, Va., and her work was recently profiled in The Washington Post. Living the artistic life has treated Lezla well, so read on to see how the one-time fine arts major turned her love of art—and a lot of hard work—into a thriving career.

Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education applies to your career?

Dickinson afforded me the opportunity to have a liberal-arts education while exploring the well-developed fine arts department. My involvement in field hockey, work study at the art slide library, long hours in the ceramics studio, a semester abroad in Italy and weekend trips to Washington, D.C., helped me arrive where I am today.

Did you have any favorite spaces at Dickinson?

Definitely the ceramics studio in the basement of the fine arts building. I spent many hours there learning the nature of clay from [Charles A. Dana Professor of Art] Barbara Diduk and her fabulous assistant, Andi Pavlik.

You were an art major at Dickinson and have turned ceramics into a career. What was it like starting out, diving into ceramics full-time?

Having graduated with a concentration in ceramic sculpture, I knew it would be hard to continue these interests without a studio and equipment, so I took a break until I could afford to set up my space. Those years were well spent though, working as an art preparator handling the art collections of the Corcoran, the National Museum for Women in the Arts and American University. I managed to connect with other artists and musicians who found time to continue their passion while supporting themselves working in museums and galleries. Today, thanks to the encouragement of my family and a move to Virginia, I’m able to produce these art objects in the studio in my house!

What does a typical day for you entail, and what about your job interests you most?

My typical day starts with, an online marketplace that gives international exposure to my work with an option to interact with other artists in that community. Then I spend a couple of hours in the studio. Online I sell through Etsy and Scoutmob. I also have some objects at a shop in Virginia and participate in some arts festivals and farmers’ markets to keep me in touch with my customers. The rest of the time is filled with packing orders, taking photos of finished items and looking for inspiration for new lines.

What is the most challenging part of what you’re doing now?

By far the most challenging part of this job is the time spent on the computer. The computer age has given us great access to information and customers, so I conduct 75 percent of my business through text messages, e-mails and e-checks. I started Dickinson at the beginning of this era and continue to learn new ways to edit listings, transfer money, look up shipping and download info. It’s just endless, but I give myself a pat on the back every time one of my pieces ends up on the other side of the world!

What do you love about your ceramics work most?

I like my small pieces the best. I started doing tile work after taking imprints of some plants and industrial signs when I moved to Virginia. I cut them into different square shapes and mounted them on wood, making a mosaic composed of natural and manmade items found in my neighborhood. It told a visual story of my dog walks with my son—things we pass and walk on every day but never notice. A favorite sign that I have gone back to time after time is a historical didactic that talks about my block in the 1890s. It used to be a dairy farm. We even had our own train station! It’s nice to know we were not always a 20-minute suburban Metro commute to Washington, D.C. I use these images to make garden pots, cheese boards, salt boxes, spoons and tiles.

What’s your favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?

I usually spend Saturday night on the porch of my house. We live in a Sears Craftsman built in 1918, and having a glass of wine on the covered porch in the spring, taking in my garden, is a magical moment!

If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be?

My dinner date would have to be my husband, believe it or not. He is a chef and works often feeding others, so good food is always a treat for both of us.

You just built a time machine: Where and when do you go?

I think I like the present, although I do have a thing for the arts and crafts movement, chinoiserie, intaglio and mono prints, folk art, shibori dyeing and textiles from the 1960s and 70s.

If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?

I would go back to Dickinson and dust off that lithography press and take a class in that!

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Published June 5, 2015