Dear Apprentices, Stay Humble

By Joshua Speers
Sep 23, 2016

The apprenticeship model is a time honored tradition in the clay world. Many look to the apprentices of Cardew, and Leach and Hamada as torch bearers. It’s easy to romanticize this ancient method of transferring knowledge and skill: the aging master in the twilight of his career and his devoted, bright eyed apprentice who works tirelessly in hopes of one day setting up his own studio. Before starting my own apprenticeship, I had this daydream. In reality, there are actually days that feel like scenes from a Brad Pitt movie: splitting wood at sunrise, hearty communal meals, throwing pots into the evening. (Hollywood really needs to pick up on this.) But, last Friday was not one of these days.

Starting in the morning, the owner of the pottery stressed the importance of watching Liverpool vs. Chelsea slug it out at Stamford Bridge. The game was on at 3 o'clock, and he was sure the day’s tasks could be completed well before the game's first whistle. Equally important was making pristine (at least, in appearance) the charmingly rustic main house. His in-laws were slated to arrive in the early evening and their impending visit hung with all the charm of a hurricane waiting just off shore.

At 2:45 I heard, “Josh! You and I have a date.” The plan was to finally tackle what I had been calling “The Cardboard Palace" --- a loft space brimming with rat-shit-soaked packing peanuts and decade’s worth of salvaged, now threadbare, cardboard for shipping pots.

At 3:00 we had all the cardboard on the lawn outside the studio. At 3:01 the carpenter arrived to walk through the plan for a new kiln shed. His shock of silver hair almost as distracting as his clothes: a kimono that swished, revealing a flash of well-loved Converse high tops. As I watched them disappear around the corner of the studio I heard it. The low rumble of a car pulling up the dirt driveway.

As the owner's wife stepped out of her car I stood petrified. Towers of cardboard surrounded me, swallowing the lawn. What had been an utterly still and humid day suddenly mustered a breeze. which sent hundreds of packing peanuts fluttering to every corner of the property. Our eyes met. My terror hidden behind a respirator, hers clearly visible. I felt like crying, but maybe that was just the dust.

I will be highlighting apprenticeship stories from the Studio Potter archives in the coming months. And next week, I will be sharing my conversation with the Apprenticelines project co-founder, Steve Theberge. Not familiar with Apprenticelines? You can read more here. Stay tuned, and for all you fellow apprentices out there, stay humble.












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