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Musicians make for great muses

Jim Lee becoming quite crafty with clay
By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal features editor
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Jim Lee is taking his love of art and music to a whole new dimension. The Meadow Vista father of four has enjoyed drawing for most of his life, but it wasn’t until more recently that he developed an interest in clay, when he encountered an artist creating clay masks while on a trip to Southern California. “He made a mistake and just added more clay,” Lee said. “I came home and I bought 50 pounds of clay.” Lee, an investment broker by day for Stifel Nicolaus in Auburn, is on a roll creating ceramic busts of people, both the living — his son Everett, for example — and the legendary. “Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong, they’ve been dead a long time but people still love the music,” Lee said. Lee started taking clayArts classes from Larry Ortiz at the Arts Building in Downtown Auburn about four months ago. “Larry was just what I needed, someone who understands clay, has a kiln, allows me to create what I want and is there when I have questions,” Lee said of Ortiz. Ortiz said the idea to create musicians came from an Art in Public Places proposal he’s working on for a regional radio station. Lee’s first three-dimensional musician was Louis Armstrong, although the two go way back — he recalls finding artistic inspiration Armstrong and other musicians when growing up. “I would just listen to Louis Armstrong and draw him,” Lee said. “I would listen to B.B. King and draw him.” Lee will gather black-and-white images of his subject and watch YouTube videos to get a feel for each musician’s body language when performing. He also listens to their music while working. Lee’s sculptures of Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, Ella Fitzgerald and Bob Marley are in varying stages of completion. “Bob Marley’s dreads, it was fun making those,” Lee said. “I had no idea where to start.” Ortiz said Lee is an excellent student. “He’s got a good eye,” he said. “He just doesn’t reproduce the image. He’s able to capture the personality, which is difficult. The glint of the eye, the curl of a lip — he does that well.”