FROM ASSISTANTSHIPS THROUGH ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCIES AT PLUM TREE POTTERY 1964 to 2007 AND BEYOND

In 1964 I began offering assistantship opportunities at Plum Tree Pottery, although in the first third of my studio career I did not consistently have an assistant every year. I myself never found a way to become an assistant when I came into the pottery field. However, during the early 1960s, I read about the idea of apprenticeship in the Japanese and English pottery traditions, notably in Bernard Leach’s “A Potter’s Book,” and learned more through discussions with other potters. During 1963-64 while serving in the Army, I spent 18 months near the historically important German salt-glaze center of Hohr-Grenzhausen where I had the good fortune to observe at close hand traditional apprenticeship as carried out in several family-run potteries. I am sure that the experience in Germany solidified my intentions to have my own interpretation of the concept become part of my studio approach.

After my own career had begun and as my own professional activities took me to various parts of the United States and abroad, I was able to observe first-hand working situations where apprenticeship was the norm. The concept appealed strongly to me and some aspects of those working arrangements were to become a permanent part of my studio life from then on. Some 30-studio assistants have worked with me over the past 43 years. It was my decision in the earlier years to use the term "assistant" rather than apprentice although I am aware that the words can have very similar meanings to many. However, in the past several years, I have begun to evolve away from either term and since 2006 I have begun referring to the working relationship I create for the person here with me as an artist-in-residency.

Over time, I have used an approach in which the studio assistant/apprentice was not an employee, but rather a journey-person who worked independently on his or her own pots and shared in the studio life in every possible way. Often, would-be assistants were curious about the scope of an assistantship at Plum Tree Pottery. I usually said that it is about working with a studio potter of some 43 years experience who still loves the mysteries of the exploration, the potter's lore. I said that for the assistant their year here should be one of their best years in the time of gathering ideas that comprise the learning stages needed before entering the field well trained, more aware, and with a better chance to "do it" realistically. Their year here allowed the assistant ample time to make work while observing at close hand the inner working of another person's approach. I am careful to say that how I work is one way (not the only one) to make one's way as a potter.

THE WAY FORWARD:
Artist-in-Residencies, 2006 and on.

I try to see that my resident artist gets a full measure of my potter's reality. They may read my professional correspondence and hear my reasoning about the "what-ifs" and "whys" about the pots or sculpture I am making at any given time. They are involved with interactions with my clients. They take their turn at helping in the studio's showroom to understand that aspect of my public exposure - one of my major connections to the world. They also benefit through contact with other professionals who may visit the studio. The resident observes the results of my decisions, is encouraged to offer opinions about all manner of things from the qualities of a pot emerging from the kiln to how much clay to order for the next work session. Additionally, if I am delivering a workshop to potters, they are usually there to observe, help and interact.

One question that comes up consistently is whether the resident makes work for me. No! Do I ask for specific kinds of help on an occasional project? Yes! Certainly we both share in all aspects of the running of a busy studio. There are ongoing tasks: to unconditionally endure my puns, suffer my offbeat humor and my singing along with the music we listen to. And, to endure my love of cooking and the resultant weight gain! Also... above all, to have fun!

For those with a serious interest in learning more about the residency at Plum Tree Pottery, please write, call or email for the particulars. Serious applicants will be provided a contact list of recent studio assistants/residents so that a dialogue can take place about what a resident actually might experience here at Plum Tree Pottery.

An excellent general resource for further general information about apprenticeship/assistantships is found in a wonderful book - "Apprenticeship In Craft", edited by Gerry Williams and published in 1981 by Daniel Clark Books. I contributed an article entitled, "Towards Humanism in Apprenticeships" for this book and I encourage anyone contemplating a residency with me or with any studio artist to read it! Regardless of the various words used to name the experience of working in another's studio, this is an enlightening read!

Although this particular article was not published in The Studio Potter magazine, you can readily find it reproduced on their excellent website at: http://www.studiopotter.org/. Scroll to Apprenticeship. All necessary information on ordering is on their website. Or write: Studio Potter Magazine, P.O. Box 352, Manchester, NH 03105-0352.

Those working with me must learn about maintaining the health of their backs, and will learn to throw while standing at the wheel. I wrote two articles on that subject, which were entitled, "To Sciatica and Back," and "From Herniation to Rupture Down the Spinal Canal" which were published in Studio Potter in 1987. These materials are available on the Studio Potter website http://www.studiopotter.org/. Scroll to "Health and Safety."Studio Potter Magazine Vol 29, No. 2, 2001.

Former artists-in-residence Laura Korch and Elenor Wilson visit the amazing Sidney Swidler collection (above). (Now at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento CA). And (below) the Mast collection. One of the perks of residency!


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