Here is a man who definitely puts heart into his art. Over the last 16 years, pediatrician Dr. Ronald Lehocky has fashioned and donated close to 50,000 polymer clay heart pins. All the money (at $10 a pin) goes to support continuing education for the therapists at the Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies on Eastern Parkway. In 2009, he was presented with the Bell Award for his charitable contributions. A life-long creator, his talents also include photography and gardening. He says, “I’m the poster child for keeping busy.”
What was your introduction to polymer clay?
I had always done artistic things—I made and sold potholders when I was a kid, later discovered macrame, and also worked with wood. About 16 years ago, my daughter, who was working for the jeweler Carlton Ridge, asked me to stop at a bead store on one of my out-of-town trips to pick up beads for her. There, I saw the book The New Clay by Nan Roche about making jewelry with polymer clay, and I was hooked.
What was the appeal?
I had wanted to be a potter, but as a doctor with three kids I had limited time to do things. Also, my wife was not going to let there be a kiln in our home. The polymer clay is soft and malleable and doesn’t dry out if I leave it in the middle of a project. I can bake it in a conventional oven at 275 degrees so it is easy and convenient and full of color.
How have you expanded your knowledge of the art?
I took classes and read books and really was just totally absorbed in the craft. I traveled to workshops, watched videos, and taught myself techniques.
How did this lead to your project for the Kids Center?
A former patient of mine asked me to serve on the Center’s board of directors, and as with many organizations, it was always looking for funding. I thought about what I could do to use my clay supplies and also give to the charitable organization. I made 100 heart-shaped pins to sell for its fashion show that at $10 a piece would raise $1,000. One month before the event all of the hearts had sold out, and I had to make more.
I continued making hearts for Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas. Each design is my own, and I sold them myself at art fairs and galleries. Eventually, shops in Louisville started carrying them.This project has taken me places I never thought I would go. Word of the project has spread internationally and people buy them in Nepal, Bali, Europe, and England. It’s amazing how it was appreciated and people wanted to help.
What is your studio like?
I have a room in my finished basement. It’s called The Clay Cave. It’s very small with a work table, a CD player, my supplies, and two chairs. I turn on music, and it takes me away for a couple of hours.
What is the process?
The first layer—the veneer—is the design or pattern; the second layer is the interior of the piece; and, the third layer gives it a rounded contour look.
I want my hearts to appeal to the eye. I am not into bizarre subjects or designs. I like to experiment but I also want a sophisticated look that is not unsettling. My aesthetics are full of balance and pleasing designs.
By Lucy M. Pritchett | Photos submitted