Sunday, 17 February 2013

Adopt a Potter presented by Lisa Hammond



Adopt a Potter has a simple aim: to help in securing the future of studio potters. 
Visit our website at adoptapotter.org.uk

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 recognised 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.

6 comments:

carter gillies said...

Carole,

Thanks for posting this. I see it as a possible solution motivated by a real problem facing studio pottery.

When I think of the number of current and recent eminent potters almost all of them either were pottery students at Universities or had some exposure to it there which led them to pursue it outside of academia. I just worry that this idea of apprenticeships is far too small a band-aid on the hemorrhaging of potters from Universities. I worry that without that opportunity afforded in universities the overall health of our craft will be mostly in the hands of folks who take a class or two at a community center and then sell the begeezus out of their pots on etsy,

And I don't want to disparage the enthusiasm that these amateurs bring to the field, but there is also undoubtedly an advantage to learning the craft in an academic setting. On etsy anything goes, so there is little outside incentive to hone one's craft. There are no gatekeepers, so as long as it sells there's the only proof you needed that it is 'good enough'. And unfortunately, without an educated public those standards will reflect very little of the sophistication and nuance that the professional field and history of our craft have provided.

In academia we are always held to higher standards. Not that this is a guarantee of quality, or that there won't be poor instructors, but the pathways are different enough that you can often see how its influence shapes the product. Academia forces students to do all the tedious necessary things in honing one's craft. The importance of critiques is that a student is forced to listen to experienced outside perspectives, and they won't always like what they hear.

Just how do we replace that wisdom in training up new potters? Apprenticeships for sure, but I seriously doubt there will be enough offered to meet the need or that there will be enough students committed to taking 4 years out of their life to devote to something that they didn't already know they wanted to do. Universities are that golden opportunity that you can take a class without yet knowing your major. Its that golden opportunity to DECIDE what you are interested in....

When I first started my own blog this issue was at the forefront of my thinking about pots. Despite all my attempts I couldn't get very many folks interested in it. It seemed like a conversation that no one wanted to have.....

So here's my question. Does anyone really think that apprenticeships will fully rep[lace the loss of pottery opportunities in academia? Are we too lazy or disinterested to do anything about it? Are we content to get ours now and let the future generations of potters sink or swim on their own? Are we apologists for the institution and the gallery/museum establishment that seems to be driving us in this direction? Are we defending the pathway of community classroom settings and the amateurism of many etsy sellers?

It seems there is no one right answer but that we need ALL these opportunities. I just fear that our future as a viable craft will be diminished if we give up on pottery being taught in academia. How many of today's great potters had absolutely NO contact with pots in college? Can you name even a few? So what happens when NO ONE has that opportunity any longer? Anyone else see what I'm worried about?

Thanks for raising this issue again. Maybe its something folks are now prepared to discuss....

Jay Wiese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay Wiese said...

Hi Carol,

What a great idea! I'd live to take on apprentices once I get established (hopefully soon), but I'm kind of stymied by the lack of an organized system in North America for potters and apprentice candidates to find and vet each other. Gotta get to work on this...

Cheers,
Jay Wiese
Gainesville, Florida

Jay Wiese said...

@Carter:

That said, aspiring potters need more than a BFA. If you want to make a living as a potter, you'll need another 3 years full-time in the studio before you can make a go of it. And this is difficult to do if you're not independently wealthy.

A college education can be valuable in terms of breadth, but an apprenticeship is more appropriate to the type of intensive practice working potters need.

carter gillies said...

If the future of pottery depended on EITHER apprenticeships OR an exposure to pot making in undergrad I wonder which we'd be better off with?

One answer might be to see how many current eminent potters had apprenticeships and how many had an exposure during their time at college. I dare say that there would be a number in both camps, and many that had the benefit of both.

The question is which could we stand to do without? It just seems to me that almost all the really good potters I know have had time making pots at the U, and very few have had actual apprenticeship experience. And maybe you can read too much into that....

Obviously the benefits of an apprenticeship in the modern world are going to appeal to a minority of an already small minority. Not everyone is cut out for an apprenticeship. It seems so anachronistic, but maybe that's part of its appeal. The other difficulty is that there are simply so few full time working potters who have the time, the space, or the ability (much less the desire) to take on apprentices. Obviously you are one of those, so your advocacy is understandable and laudable. But how rare is that? Is it a serious suggestion that apprenticeships will replace ALL the lost opportunity at universities?

The thing about getting exposure to pot making at college is that this is often how people find clay. If you are set up for an apprenticeship you must have been exposed to it somewhere else. Its not something a person jumps into casually. So WHERE exactly was that?

The advantage of pot making being taught at universities is that this is an incredibly formative time in a young adult's life. Its a place where discovering your life's path is often accidental and more often than not simply being in the right place at the right time. Not to mention that having the right instructor and classmates can be all the inspiration it takes. Students are there to discover what they want to do. And you cannot replace that freedom of opportunity with something like an apprenticeship. How many active potters first took classes knowing that this was what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives? Shouldn't young people still have that opportunity?

Apprenticeships are more like a finishing school once you've already discovered that you want to take this clay adventure seriously. And full marks for doing that well! But clay classes at the university is more often that chance in a million that a young person will discover something new about the universe and decide to orient their lives in its pursuit. I'm not exactly sure how THAT can be replaced once it is gone or disabled more than it already is.....

So really these things are not a like for like substitution, are they? And my fear is that if we GIVE UP on all academic opportunity to study pot making we can never replace it by the means we now have at our disposal. Well intentioned apprenticeship providing potters not withstanding.....

It just seems like a shame when you really think about it.....

Jay Wiese said...

True, apprenticeships will need to change radically if they're to be an effective education for aspiring potters- they'll need to be longer (at least 3 years, preferably 5), there will need to be more of them, and there needs to be some kind of agreed-upon standard so apprentice candidates will know what they're going to gain through the apprenticeship. And they'll need to be *paid* (room and board, at least)- that's what kept me away from them- As a young adult I simply didn't have the money.