Table of Contents » Chapter 2 : Post Graduation » Chapter 2 : Apprenticeships

Chapter 2 : Apprenticeships

An apprenticeship is an exceptional was to gain hands on experience in many different parts of working in ceramics. Following are some excerpts from professionals in the field, practical concerns, and a list of names to contact in order to begin your search for the apprenticeship that may be right for you.

Excerpts concerning apprenticeships

“I wanted to give something back. I remembered what could have been helpful to me as a young potter, and tried to find ways to provide that help. When I was beginning, it was hard to invest heavily in equipment, studio space, and materials, to learn how to market what I made, and to present in the best possible way what I wanted to make. Most of all, never having worked in a studio alone, I had no idea how much work it would take to make a living.
Those of us in it for the long haul make our way through these unknowns with varying degrees of success. So I had my expertise to offer, along with space and equipment. I decided to call my appointment an assistantship. Embedded in that concept was also the notion of mentorship.”

Excerpt from an essay by Silvie Grantelli.

“Throughout much of ceramic history one learned the potters craft by becoming an apprentice to a master potter who became the mentor. All other crafts were learned the same way…Today the majority of people learn pottery-making in art school, as one of the options available in the study of ceramic art.”

Cushing, Val. “Mentoring in Art School”. Studio Potter 31 no 2 June (2003): 17-18.

“Apprenticeship is a chance. It is a chance for a master to teach, and a chance for a student to learn. There is no guarantee of success. It is a close relationship between two people that can flower into something beautiful, or it can descend into an unworkable fiasco. Each apprenticeship is specific because of the intimacy of the working relationship. The outcome of an apprenticeship is dependent upon the character and talent of the apprentice and the character and talent of the master. The outcome of an apprenticeship usually seems set before it even begins. It is a one-on one, on-the-job training that ideally helps both the master and the apprentice. At their best, a mutual respect between the protagonists propels both parties forward economically, aesthetically and personally. An apprenticeship is only a start.”

Hewitt, Mark. “WHO’D BE A POTTER?” Presented at 2005 Baltimore, Maryland NCECA Centering: Community, Clay & Culture.
hewittpottery.com

“In summary, residency is a post-graduate experience set in a real-world environment — a working studio. I’m more of an ardent proponent than ever of this kind of experiential learning, because it preserves a vital forum for reality-based educational opportunities in the clay field. Having interacted with thirty-five different personalities since 1964, I can say with assurance and pleasure that these relationships have energized and enriched all of us.”

Glick, John. “An Approach to Mentoring in Full-time Studio Practice” (amended by John Glick 2012). Studio Potter 31 no 2 (June 2003): 15-16.

“In order for a successful mentoring relationship to prosper, it appears that both mentor and student must be committed to the venture. On the part of the student, there needs to be an honest commitment to learn and a willingness to make some sacrifice. In the case of the mentor, there must be a responsibility and commitment to share knowledge and transmit that knowledge in a means that is accessible to the student. The mentor must not take advantage of the student. We all know of circumstances where a person is brought into a studio under the pretext of an apprenticeship only to be used to sweep floors or crank out pots. There are some valid apprenticeship situations available but they are few; it seems that university has become the principle mode for ceramic education.”

Hatcher, Gary C.. “Introduction Mentoring: The Way We Learn”. Studio Potter 31 no 2 (June 2003):9-12.

Practical concerns

“If it appears a workable apprenticeship is in the offering, there are then factual matters to settle.”

  • Studio Time. What is the ratio of time spent doing studio work to time available for your own pursuits? Would you trade time on an hour-for-hour basis? Could you survive emotionally with no time for your own work? I would give very careful thought to what it might feel like, not being able to work on your own ideas as they surface. What about time together with the master? When can discussion take place and when can problems be aired? Will such things be catch-as-catch-can, or will there be a fixed schedule of critique?
  • Space. Would you have a separate space and your own equipment, or would you be asked to bring your own tools? Is the studio designed to accommodate a second or a third person? (This can make a difference in the middle of the flurry and hustle of an active studio.) Could you get along with no space allotted specifically for your own use?
  • Duties. What would you be expected to do? (Try to have that spelled out clearly.) Even though the role you fill will change as your skills become more useful, it is best to have a good grasp of the general expectations on the master’s part. Would you actually help make wares for the studio? Would you want to make large numbers of repeat pieces, or would you rather have more flexible duties? Do not sacrifice other aspects of your development by agreeing to concentrate on one small part of the studio activity. It may be quite convenient for the master to manage his apprentices in a logical, job-oriented fashion for his own organizational needs, but unless you can function in a variety of different roles, you will end up with a very limited grasp of the overall view of a studio and its multilevel functions.
  • Money. How would you survive financially? Would you trade studio work directly for the time and space necessary to work on your own? Would you be paid on a piecework basis (if at all)? Does the master expect you to pay him? With the sole exception of having an apprentice pay me, I have tried many variations of the trade system – or the piecework idea – and usually I vary the plan to suit the circumstances and the individual involved.”

Glick, John. “Toward Humanism in Apprenticeships To a Would-be Apprentice”. This article first appeared in Apprenticeship in Craft. Copyright © 1981 by Daniel Clark Books. All rights reserved.

In addition to John Glick’s list of practical concerns, there are a couple of other things to consider/inquire about:

  • Are your interests in clay similar to the “master”, i.e. are you making wood-fired sculptures, but proposing to work with someone who makes low-fired earthenware pots?
  • You should have your own health insurance plan?
  • Find out about liability and workman’s compensation. Should you become injured while working during your apprenticeship what will happen and who will pay the medical bills?
  • Housing-where will you live? On the property in a space provided? In town? How much is rent in that area?

As was stated above in various ways, apprenticeships can provide a nice bridge between university education and practical, real world concerns for ceramic artists. They are not to be entered lightly, as they involve a commitment to an individual that is often crucial to the running of her/his business. It is important to determine before hand that the relationship will benefit both parties and to understand the expectations before the apprenticeship begins.

Apprenticeships offer a unique opportunity to gain insight into the life you plan to live and will undoubtedly provide real world experience that may help you become successful in the field.

It can be a life affirming and powerful experience. The more you know ahead of time about what to expect, the better your experience will be. Ask lots of questions so you enter this intense experience aware of all of the pros and cons of that particular arrangement.

Here is a brief list of potters in the United States to inquire with about an apprenticeship:

  • Richard Bresnahan – Minnesota
  • John Glick – Michigan
  • Silvie Grantelli – Virginia
  • Chris Gustin – Massachusetts
  • Mark Hewitt – North Carolina
  • JD Jorgens – Minnesota
  • Matt Keller – North Carolina
  • Simon Levin – Wisconsin
  • Justin Rothshank – Indiana
  • Jeff Shapiro – New York State
  • Mark Shapiro – Massachusetts

There are also apprenticeship opportunities abroad. The best way to arrange one is to contact a ceramic artist who has completed one, and have them write you a letter of introduction to that individual.

Adopt a Potter

Founded in 2009, the original idea for the Trust came from an experienced potter – Lisa Hammond – who has a tradition of taking apprentices at her studio in London. Some of these apprentices have become well recognized potters in their own right. It takes years to train a studio potter. Unfortunately, many art colleges are finding it difficult to offer throwing in any meaningful way, so it is more important than ever for a student wishing to make functional and studio pots to have the opportunity of an apprenticeship with an experienced professional potter. Adopt a Potter has a simple aim: to help in securing the future of studio potters.