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
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.
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
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!