Saturday, June 27, 2009
What Makes You Tick
For the past six months we have had apprentices here. In the past, we've tried having folks work with us, but have generally been less than thrilled. Time and time again, I would go back and read articles from potters like John Glick, Mark Hewitt or Mike Cohen, where they talked about the importance of the apprentice system. As a product of that system myself, I always figured someday, somehow we would incorporate apprentices into our shop. This was the year!
Since January, we have had Hannah working with us, making plates left and right. Now she has started becoming more involved in making mugs. In addition, she makes her own line of mugs which are bi-colored and often have additional decoration. These mugs we sell separately from our studio line, but since the glazes match our monochrome pots, they work very well together. The end result is that Hannah brings in a little extra cash each week as we sell her mugs, and in return she also makes a pile of mugs for the studio.
In March, Dana and Justin began working here. Neither had ever worked in clay before so this was a completely new experience. I cannot begin to express the fun we've had, the things we've learned, and just the sheer volume of pots that have been made here since January.
Now we're looking at a little over two weeks until Dana and Justin leave for Modesto, CA. Such a terribly short span of time and yet there is still SO much more they want to try before they leave the East Coast.
Things I never took into account:
1. Time. Apprentices NEED a lot of time and attention. It pays you back in spades, but they need that time with your help and supervision and care.
2. Space. I thought our studio was pretty small (comfy) to begin with.... but having up to four of us working in there at once... it was tight! If you aren't thrilled with bopping butts with your fellow potters, a bigger studio might be a better choice than adding apprentices to your cramped space. For us, this has made us work smarter, harder and faster. Now we fire ALL the time, keeping pots flowing out the door instead of log-jamming as greenware or bisqueware on shelves.
3. Patience. I think between having apprentices and having a pre-teen, I am learning about patience. Luckily Nancy is kind and helpful in pointing out when my patience is gone. She always seems to step in RIGHT at the moment when I need help.
4. Direction. I guess it isn't really fair to assume that everyone has direction. Some people aren't goal oriented. I have always had pretty clear cut goals and known how to get there.... till I met clay. Since then, I have wandered, wondered and just plain said hmmm. Apprentices though, expect you to help them find direction. They need to know that the work they're doing will help them down that path. While as the potter/instructor/whatever-you-might-call-yourself... you might not know what the path is for every student/apprentice, at the very least you can shine a path farther down the way.
All in all, this has been the most awesome experience for Nancy and I. We both feel so incredibly lucky to have had this time with our apprentices. As crucial as they have become to our workshop and our life, I am at a loss as to how to approach the next apprentice-applicants. We certainly can't replace Dana and Justin, but the work they've been doing has been so helpful. On top of that, the educational component has really motivated me to begin work on a book project that has been percolating for a few years now. The reciprocity relationship involved in this level of apprenticeship has really reshaped my perceptions of what our studio needs. It's both exciting and rewarding! Thank you Dana, Justin and Hannah.