BS Che (Chemical Engineering), 1988, University Virginia, Charlottesville, VA    


Student experience


            South Bear (Pottery) School, Decorah IA, summer 1975

            Peter Leach Pottery, Cannon Falls, MN, summer/fall 1976

            Luther College, Decorah, IA, winter/spring 1977

            Piedmont Community College, Charlottesville, VA, 1982-84*

            University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, 1985-88*


Professional (potter) experience


            Potter in Residence, South Bear School, May-December, 1977

            Potter in Residence, Keokuk Art Center, Keokuk, IA, January-April, 1978 

            Crafter’s Gallery, Charlottesville VA, 1979-82*

            Brent Johnson Pottery, Fremont, CA, 2000-


* During the period 1982 through 1988, I left pottery to earn a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia; afterwhich, I spent the next eleven years working as an environmental engineer.  

Early years


 My interest in making pottery began to dominate my career plans in 1975 after I attended South Bear School, a pottery summer school in Highlandville, Iowa. South Bear School was started by Dean Schwarz and Doug Ekhart in the early 1970’s and was modeled after Bauhaus potter, Marguerite Wildenhain’s Pond Farm. The emphasis at South Bear was on technique and expression of form based largely on the teaching methods as descended from the Bauhaus of 1920’s Germany.    


For six months in 1976 I studied with Peter Leach, a production potter located near Cannon Falls, Minnesota where I grew up.  This marked my first experience with reduction firing and using traditional glazes such as tenmoku and celadon. Peter Leach also introduced me to the Japanese folk pottery tradition that had taken root in Minnesota in the 1950’s as a result of Warren MacKenzie, at the University of Minnesota.


In the fall of 1976 I moved to Highlandville Iowa where I studied again under Dean Schwarz, this time at Luther College in Decorah where Dean taught. In 1977, I received a grant from the Iowa Arts Council and became "potter in residence" at South Bear School. In January of 1978, I transferred to Keokuk, Iowa where I made pottery and taught classes at the local art center. After completing the grant work I returned to Highlandville, where I made pottery until the fall of 1979 at which time I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia.  There I set up a pottery shop ten miles west of Charlottesville. After three more years as a production potter, I decided to make a career change and returned to school.  


A break from Pottery  


In 1988 I received a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and for the next eleven years I worked as an engineer for the United States Air Force as a civilian member and later a consultant. In January 2000, I returned to making pottery full time at my current location in the Warm Springs area of Fremont, California.

Highlandville Swimming Hole by Brian Lehmann, 2006

Current work


I would describe my pottery as traditional functional pottery. The tradition(s) I am referring to in this case are the Japanese Folk Pottery and Bauhaus Pottery traditions. Both traditions were very important to me when learning to make pottery and continue to be an underlying influence in my work.


The Bauhaus potters of Dornburg, Germany in the 1920’s produced some of the most sophisticated and innovative functional pottery in modern times. Much of the Bauhaus pottery of that era is characterized by the use of sharp lines and plane changes that accentuate their crisp execution.  The principal potters of that era were Otto Lindig, Theo Bogler and Marguerite (Friedlander) Wildenhain.  My love of Bauhaus pottery and its tradition began as a student of Dean Schwarz in the 1970’s and is ongoing.


Another pottery tradition that is an important influence in my work is the Japanese Folk Pottery tradition. The term “Mingei” is often used to refer to this tradition. The term has a wider meaning that encompasses the whole of Japanese Folk Crafts. The modern Mingei revival was in response to the cultural changes that occurred in pre-world War II Japan in which aspects of traditional Japanese culture such as folk crafts were being systematically replaced by western influences. As a result, a group of artists and craftsmen created the modern Mingei movement to preserve Japan’s most important cultural traditions.  One of the movement’s principal leaders was Mashiko potter, Shoji Hamada.  His legacy along with English potter, Bernard Leach made the Mingei style one of the most popular and recognizable pottery traditions to emerge from the last century. Curved lines, soft forms and simple decoration characterize the Mingei pottery tradition.


Mission Statement


My goal is to make pottery that is traditional but also uniquely of my own design. For example, I routinely use traditional decorating techniques such as fluting and impressed patterns. I also incorporate conventional design elements into my pots such as trimming a beveled Mashiko-style foot or attaching Bauhaus-style handles. While I strive to make pots that carry on these traditions, it is equally important for me not to go too far and simply copy or replicate traditional works. The measure of success is a balance in which I feel inspired by tradition but not bound by it.