Connecticut Art Review is a writing platform for the visual arts in and around the state.

The Million-Petaled Flower of Being Here | Ann P. Lehman

The Million-Petaled Flower of Being Here | Ann P. Lehman

The Million-Petaled Flower of Being Here | Ann P. Lehman

Ann Lehman’s outdoor metal studio. Photo: J. Gleisner.

Ann Lehman’s outdoor metal studio. Photo: J. Gleisner.

From Ann Lehman’s studio, a screen door leads outside where a poof of a young pine tree grows near a chair welded together from horseshoes. Other sculptures are scattered around this patio, too. The remnants of a commissioned work for the Girl Scouts rests against a wall. A geometric gate at the top of a short staircase was designed and fabricated by Lehman. Elsewhere on her property, a curlicue form ends with an arrow pointing to the ground. This sculpture is reminiscent of another one of her pieces called Intersections (1980), a nine-foot-tall steel sculpture painted red on Whitney Avenue in downtown New Haven.

“I’m a sticky person,” said Lehman. Sitting on an Eames chair in her dining room, 91-year-old Lehman explained she has been part of the same book club for over 30 years. Since the early 1960s, she has lived in the same home, a mid-century modern ranch in Bethany designed by the architect Vincent Amore. Her metal shop—stuffed full of her sculptures, a plasma cutter, and the artist’s sketches—has been in the basement of this house since it was built. For over 60 years, Lehman has been working with metal, her favorite material, refining her skills by learning new technologies such as MIG and TIG welding.

Ann P. Lehman,  Intersection  (1980). New Haven, CT. Image:  S. Nimrod .

Ann P. Lehman, Intersection (1980). New Haven, CT. Image: S. Nimrod.

A native of the New Haven area, Lehman was always interested in art, especially sculpture. In the first grade, Lehman’s teacher was among the first to recognize her talent. Her early drawings were unusual because they always depicted motion, a sharp contrast from the static illustrations of her peers. From a young age, Lehman’s parents encouraged her to develop her skills, filling her free time with art lessons. Her decision to study art was both natural and uncommon.

At Smith College in Massachusetts, studio art was not offered as a major, so Lehman received her degree in art history in 1949. Later that year, she continued her education at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. There, she practiced forming different types of metals and met the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and his son, Eero, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright. After her first year of graduate school, Lehman got married and had a son. She returned to New Haven, where her husband’s family business was based, and resumed her M.F.A. in sculpture at the Yale School of Art and Architecture.

With fewer than ten sculptors in the program, Lehman was the only female, but she said no one ever treated her unkindly. Female artists were not a threat then in the way that they have become now, she explained. Her ambitions differed from her peers, too. Lehman never wanted to be tied to a particular gallery and she did not hunger for recognition with the same appetite of her colleagues. Sculpting has always formed the armature of her being, but she was also devoted to fostering an appreciation for the arts within her community.

A few years outside of graduate school, Lehman and five other artists founded the Creative Arts Workshop. They all wanted opportunities to teach, especially in environments that were more professional or accommodating than their own studios. During the first summer, they taught over 100 students out of the basement of the John Slade Ely House, now the site of the eponymous contemporary art center. By 1961, the nonprofit had incorporated with Lehman as its president.

For the first several years, Lehman, who had three small children at home by now, ran the organization without the assistance of an executive director or other forms of administrative support. Stepping down from her duties four years later, she began teaching metal fabrication classes—welding, brazing, hammering, and more. Today she still teaches one class a week with advanced students, many of whom have been taking her courses for years.

Ann Lehman inside her studio. Photo: J. Gleisner.

Ann Lehman inside her studio. Photo: J. Gleisner.

“That’s how I’ve been able to survive—because I’m part of something,” Lehman stated. She paused, adding, “and I mean survive emotionally.” She has outlived her husband, daughter, and one of her sons, but her commitment to the arts community and her love for sculpture have kept her alive. “If I didn’t have my art, I think I would be dead,” she said.

As Lehman has gotten older, she has slowed down and learned to adapt. She sits sometimes now when she works and she has scaled down her sculptures, but she has never stopped. Lehman’s passion for sculpture continues to enrich her life while rooting her to a community.


All of Lehman’s quotes are from a conversation with the author at Lehman’s home in Bethany, Connecticut on August 2, 2019. Read more about this commissioned project here.

The Million-Petaled Flower of Being Here | Joseph Saccio

The Million-Petaled Flower of Being Here | Joseph Saccio

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