Leland Claes was a pivotal figure in the world of 20th century California ceramics design; but ironically he is a virtual unknown among today's pottery historians.
He was a private individual and sculpted his lamps and figurines in a workshop in California's Morongo Valley. He was a man of sincere religious beliefs and therefore held nature very dear when it came to his design.
Leland Claes was born in 1916 in Turlock, California. His grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Sweden and both his parents were born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was the oldest of seven children and spoke fluent Swedish as a child. It was in high school where he first showed his artistic inclinations, starting with painting, but over time he gravitated towards sculpture.
His first work is ceramics design was for Arthur Ball at Ball Art Pottery. Claes stepped in to replace Howard Ball, who had left the family concern to do design work for Brad Keeler (for more information please see the section on Brad Keeler). Claes worked for Ball from 1944 until 1952.
In 1952 Claes left Ball Art Pottery to design and manufacture independently. He established his Morongo Valley studio and as demand increased he opted to take his designs to the William H. Hirsch Manufacturing Company for production. This was the period where the best-known Claes designs were produced. Hirsch Mfg. made most of Claes TV lamp designs, and a stylized "WH" can be found on most examples. Williams Ceramics is also thought to have produced some of the lamps.
In 1960 Leland left his desert workshop and returned to Turlock. His interest soon turned to photography he specialized in individual and group portraits, some finished in oils; however, his kiln was situated in the back of the studio and this which allowed him to continue his ceramics.
Leland closed his photography business in 1971, and during the period after worked on many special hobbies including writing and photography. Leland Claes passed away on March 11, 2000 at the age of 83.