Richard Lapedes’ Sculpture: Recovering from 30 years in Management

By Erin Callahan

Photo: ‘Quantum Ignition’ by Richard Lapedes

What does a businessman, an educator, an artist, and a sailor have in common? If you ask Richard Lapedes, it’s more than you might think.

“Art, education, and business are domains I’ve investigated in my life quite a bit,” he says. “With that life experience in mind, I believe the difference between those domains is very little. I think people think of artists as this kind of human, a businessman as this kind of human, and an educator as yet another kind of human, but my experience says that is very overstated.”

Lapedes was an artist first. He took an interest in art in third grade, and after his detours in sailing, the corporate world, and supporting education, he has finally been able to return to art-making—and he plans to stick with art this time, more than 65 years later.

His first show, Sculpture: Recovering from 30 Years in Management, will open Saturday, Oct. 21 and run through Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Yellow Springs Arts Council. The “recovery” he references is due to how he’s used his hands—or not used his hands—throughout his life, and what he’s learned along the way.

He retired from his family business, the Lion Group, more than a decade ago with the goal of being in a studio. Even after 30 years spent in several roles, including the manufacturing manager, the marketing manager, the executive vice president, and eventually the president, Lapedes admits it was never his “sweet spot.”

“I had about exhausted myself doing what I could do as a corporate executive,” he says. “I was pretty starved by not using my hands… My sweet spot is research and development, not maintenance and management. Art-making is all research and development. The only difference between R and D, a corporate term, and art-making, an artist’s term, is nothing.”

Though Lapedes began using his hands at a young age to draw and make two- and three-dimensional objects, and even to win several contests in high school, circumstances didn’t always allow him to use them the way he wanted, or as much as he wanted.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in the history of ideas from Yale University while also taking graduate courses in the visual arts. After graduating in the ‘60s, at the height of the political protests, he was inspired to pursue a master’s degree in communications—his first detour from art-making. After volunteering for the draft and spending time overseas, he returned and met his wife, Maureen.

One day, while reading National Geographic, he came across a story about the discovery of the Caribbean. He and Maureen decided to rebuild a sailboat, and they spent the next three years sailing through the Lesser Antilles before they returned home and Lapedes began at Lion.

“So you might ask, ‘What does sailing have to do with art?’” he says. “Well 80 percent of sailing is managing the boat itself. So, you’re always learning about rigging, woodwork, fiberglass, engine mechanics, sail-making, and maintenance. So, all of this three-dimensional stuff is important. I was managing the material boat, and I really liked that. It was a different way to use my hands. It’s always about using your hands.”

It gave him a chance to use his hands again—to develop with practice what he really enjoyed about art-making as a child.

“What I learned from sailing was that I liked the juxtaposition of different materials,” Lapedes says. “I was working with stainless steel wire, wood, fiberglass, mechanics of an engine, sails, rope—all of those things work together to make the boat work. What was missing was the conceptual part. The boat was a utilitarian object, whereas what I was trained to think about, and instinctively thought about, was the conceptual and metaphoric. That is the seed of this materiality that’s fascinating to me; the juxtaposition of raw materials was really important.”

This idea is the subject of his artist’s talk, “Metaphor and Materiality,” that will take place at the show’s opening reception on Oct. 21. Lapedes experiments with juxtaposing materials in his 2,000-square-foot studio in Yellow Springs, creating sculptures with a vast collection of materials.

Many of Lapedes’ unique sculptures will be available for sale at the show, but the cost is a donation. All proceeds will be contributed to the Yellow Springs School District Fund at the Yellow Springs Community Foundation to support the district’s problem-based learning pedagogy.

“I don’t sell anything,” Lapedes says. “If you want a piece of my work, you have to donate to a charity I select with an amount I suggest. I am highly invested in education, but I’ve had enough business in my life. I don’t want any more business.”

While Lapedes says some might consider him a “jack of all trades and “master of none,” he is using what he’s learned to do what he’s always wanted to do.

“I gave you the example that all art is what business people would call R and D, research and development,” he says. “In my opinion, these all have been popularly perceived as separate domains, but they are only often divided by the vocabularies that people use, more than the actual intellectual and emotional processes. So, I think it’s very important, particularly for someone like myself, a so-called ‘artist.’

“Now the counter argument is, ‘Oh, Richard fucked around with sailing, then he fucked around with business, and now he’s fuckin’ around with art,’” he continues. “I’m done though, I’m not changing domains again. I’m going to stick to art; it’s a visceral thing. If you don’t feel it, you can’t get in the zone, and you can’t do good work unless you’re in the zone. Nothing I’ve ever done is so perfectly in the zone as art-making.”

Sculpture: Recovering from 30 Years in Management will run Friday, Oct. 21 through Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Yellow Springs Arts Council at 111 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. An opening reception will be held October 21 from 6 – 9 p.m. with the artist’s talk, ‘Metaphor and Materiality,’ at 7 p.m. For more information, please visit

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Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at

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