My ceramics life began with a challenge from my students in a university beginning biology class--50 years ago. Since then, there have been brief detours in working with clay, including forays into weaving, enameling and acrylic painting--magical media each in their own right. But the siren call of ceramics prevailed, always informed and inspired by exciting visual experiences. Travel was the crucial component with Asia as the locus for some forty years and the decorative arts and architecture of Eastern cultures providing the aesthetic vocabulary. I invite you to spend a few moments in review of what I have made in response.

Two thousand years ago in China, it became the practice to construct elaborate tombs for the burial of important individuals. Whang Chong, a Confucian scholar of the lst C. CE, wrote:  "The service of the dead is analogous to that of the living, and the worship of ghosts corresponds to that of men.  Since we behold the living eating and drinking, they must do the same after they have died and become ghosts."  To provide for the functions of these ghosts, miniature ceramic buildings were put into the tombs.  Watchtowers, dwellings, granaries, pig-sties, and sheep-pens were part of the tomb equipment.  Some are whimsical, some are militaristic and all have great visual appeal and a wonderfully inventive charm.  These objects are my original inspiration. 


Shifting to Medieval Japan, the same practices can be found in those imperial tombs which have been excavated.  Structures that served and sheltered the living are represented in clay models buried in these tombs.  Miniature clay storehouses and even boats are among the tomb objects.  These too are a delight to the eye.


In the Southeast Asian countries of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, many houses and businesses have spirit houses which are intended for a different kind of "ghost:" the spirit which possessed the land before construction began.  If not appeased with a dwelling in the form of a miniature house or temple, and also periodic offerings, the spirit can cause problems for those who dispossessed them.  These structures also are very appealing to me in their design and architectural construction and details.


My first experience with a Chinese tomb "spirit house" was in the University of Singapore's Art Museum on my first of many visits to Asia.  I wanted to acquire a similar piece for myself, only to discover that prices for such art in antique galleries were far beyond my resources.  The only solution was to try to make one for myself, not a copy, but a piece that would give me the same visual pleasure as the original ones.  My first attempt resulted in "Han Spirit House," which you can see on this site, and it joined my growing collection of Asian art that I live with.  That was in 1989, and ever since, I have been making architecturally inspired pieces, sometimes with a strong Asian influence, sometimes with other regional, time period or cultural references.   Over the years, my mentors in ceramics have been several noteworthy ceramic artists:  Ruth Rippon, Scott Parady, Yoshio Taylor, Robert Brady and Peter Vandenberge, all at one time or still, associated with California State University, Sacramento, CA.

"The Spirit Houses of Lee Kavaljian -
It is said that within the walls of each piece simmers a glow of enchantment -
found by those who seek it -- The Spirit that lives within." --Harry Lee.