Models of Apprenticeship

Mark Hewitt and apprentice.

Mark Hewitt and apprentice.

Apprenticeship is a complex word, one that has different meanings as it changes context and location. Most apprenticeships are a deeply individual experience, and each is tailored to meet the specific needs of the host, the skills of the apprentice, and the demands of the studio. Although the categories outlined below are generalized and broad (and most apprenticeships are a hybrid of the models outlined below) we hope they provide a common language and springboard for this vibrant and essential model of craft education. These models were developed through conversation with artists across the country, ongoing research and investigation in the field, and our own experience as potters. For a more personal take on the experience of apprenticeship, please take a look at the articles below.

"Apprenticeship Route" by Lucie Brisson (Ceramics Monthly May 2013)

"Master and Apprentice" by Daniel Garretson (Ceramics Monthly December 2013)

"Who'd Be a Potter?" by Mark Hewitt (NCECA 2005)

Workshop Model

The workshop model hews most closely to traditional and historical apprenticeship. It is most common in production oriented pottery studios that are committed to carrying on a particular aesthetic and approach to work. Often the host artist has trained in an apprenticeship. Many of the artists that work in this vein produce a high volume of work and fire large wood-burning kilns, making additional help a necessity. In most cases, apprentices make “workshop” pots (pots that are stamped and sold as the product of the studio), are paid a stipend or wage, and are sometimes provided housing or other compensation. Apprentices spend a year or more in training and often go on to open their own workshop without further education.

Studio Model

The studio model is a variation on the traditional apprenticeship structure. While the day-to-day work is often similar to that in the workshop model, studio apprentices usually do not make work sold under the studio name and are encouraged to develop their own aesthetic and body of work during the apprenticeship. Often studio apprentices are provided with materials and studio space but are generally not paid a wage. Apprentices usually train for several years.

In many cases, artists offering an apprenticeship in this model did not do an apprenticeship themselves and have created a structure to meet the specific needs of their studio. Many of them received academic training in ceramics or fine art, and often the apprentices in this setting will go on to other educational settings, such as a residency or graduate school.

Assistant Model

Many ceramics studios employ assistants, either exchanging labor for studio spacer playing a wage with a less of a formal commitment. While we are committed to expanding apprenticeship, we feel that this is an important form of studio based craft education. We have noticed that an assistantship can move towards a longer and more intense commitment.


East Fork Pottery Marshall, NC

Details: Our Apprenticeship model is structured around the transmission of a discrete skill-set from teacher to student. Apprentices labor for the pottery in the mornings and are instructed how to make the studio’s work in the afternoons, Monday through Friday, 9am to 6pm.  All work that apprentices make is property of East Fork Pottery, and is marked as such.

Experience Needed: It is our belief that the attentive and earnest practice of replicating a teacher’s work in a guided environment is one of the best ways to quickly gain these skills. It is our hope that an applicant is open to the value of this sort of training and isn’t focused on creating a signature body of work in their own voice. The type of originality that we value grows out of a technical mastery of the material and years of compassionate practice. 

Length: 2 year commitment

Tasks and Compensation: Through the morning labor, apprentices learn the skills required to run the operations of a working pottery, such as properly preparing and stacking wood for firings, running and maintaining a chainsaw, maintaining kiln furniture for a large woodfired salt kiln, managing clay and glaze materials, loading and firing large woodkilns, etc.  The afternoons are an opportunity for the apprentice to get an education in the technical skillset required to make our studio’s work: fluid and accurate throwing, a sense of form rooted in traditional folk pottery but hybridized with modern influences, traditional decorative and glazing techniques, etc. All labor that we assign to students is directly related to the operations of the pottery business and thus pertinent to their education. We also make a point of paying students fairly for their labor: starting at $1,166/month for the 20 hours/week of labor that we require.  We are not able to provide housing at this point—apprentices are expected to find housing in the surrounding area. We provide lunch. 

Jeff Shapiro Accord, NY

Details: Stipend. Apprentices receive materials, studio space, and firing. Housing and food are not provided. The apprentice must have health insurance and a vehicle. Work week is 5 days:  8:30 – 5:00. Sat. and Sun. are available to do outside work to offset expenses

Experience Needed: A perspective apprentice must have an introduction from a reputable person in the field. Ceramic related skills to have or learn: spiral wedging, large coil making, stretching slabs( no rollers), clay preparation, wood preparation, slip and glaze preparation, kiln loading and kiln firing. The more experience the better, but if the person has only limited experience and is eager, and has a good work ethic,   then the relationship is still possible.

Length of Apprenticeship: We base the relationship on 2 years, but a 1 year minimum is required.

Tasks and Compensation: Apprentice does not make work for the studio to sell. Lunches and an occasional dinner are provided. Daily chores are: cleaning the workshop first thing each morning, preparing clay: wedging, or stretching slabs when work is being made. In other parts of the year, it may be cleaning and preparing the kiln for loading, firing( 3 kilns: 1 is the large anagama -8 day firing, 1 is a small wood/gas kiln-24 hour firing, and 1 is an electric kiln. There is also a small wood/gas experimental tube kiln. The apprentice partakes in all aspects of the studio as well as loading and firing, but the final work is made by me. No work that is sold from my studio is made by the apprentices. The apprentice is encouraged to have work of their own available for sale during our studio show in October or November. On occasion the apprentice can begin his/her own work at 3:00 but the general rule of thumb is that the apprentice has the evenings and weekends to work on their own, beginning at 5:00 during the week and most times on the weekend.

Sylvie Granatelli Meadows of Dan, VA

Details: The studio assistantship position is an opportunity for someone interested in becoming a professional potter or studio artist. I have been working in my studio with potters for many years and believe I can offer a kind of mentorship that will help you embark on a career in clay.

Length: It is a two-year position, sometimes overlapping with another assistant.

Tasks and Compensation: There is no exchange of money. Instead, you would be expected to work twelve hours a week for me in exchange for:

  • Access to my working knowledge as a professional potter

  • Use of studio space and equipment

  • An opportunity to find out what this kind of life is like first hand

It is a place for you to start to make cycles of work and market them, to exchange ideas, and to experiment with ways of presenting your work and yourself professionally.

Simon Levin Gresham, WI

Details: Unpaid. Apprentices receive materials, studio space, and firing. Housing and food are not provided.

Experience Needed: I expect apprentices to invest themselves in the success of Mill Creek Pottery, as I am invested in the success of each apprentice.  A sense of ownership and pride of place is an important ingredient to a successful time here.   I look for apprentices who are hard working, thoughtful and open to learning, eager and respectful.  Organizational skills are appreciated.

Length of Apprenticeship: 1-2 years

Tasks and Compensation: In exchange for 15 hours a week of labor, I offer facilities, materials, opportunity and guidance.  Chores you might be doing any given week include sanding and shipping pottery, moving or splitting wood, lawn care, inventory, photographing and web store updates, or giving tours and explaining the process.  Apprentices facilitate the making of my work, but do not make my work.