2015 NCECA Conference

The Apprenticelines project debuted in March 2015 at the annual NCECA conference held in Providence, Rhode Island. We organize the Apprenticelines exhibition, a distinguished panel on apprenticeship, and a Topical Discussion that enabled us to hear and gather the concerns of those considering apprenticeship as and important path of their creative and professional development.

The Apprenticelines exhibition, curated by Mark Shapiro and coordinated by Steve Theberge, featured over a 100 artists from across the United States. The show was designed to visually articulate the diversity and multiple lines of apprenticeship in contemporary American studio pottery. Displaying the work of current and past apprentices and their mentors, the exhibition explored the lineages of five selected studios in depth.

An additional feature of the exhibition was a wall of cups that surveyed the apprenticeship connections of close to 100 artists. The planning, design and installation of work was extensive. It required construction of 100 custom-built wall wedges to display the cups, which resulted in a clear and engaging way to illustrate the relationships between artists.

The response to the exhibition was overwhelmingly positive: it quickly became a topic of discussion at the conference.  Attendance at the exhibition was strong throughout the week of the conference and the opening reception was packed for several hours. The exhibition established a visible platform for discourse that generated interest in and enthusiasm for other project activities at the conference, which highlighted emergent issues in apprenticeship that were further explored—namely the “New Apprenticeship Project” panel presentation and the aforementioned topical discussion on apprenticeship. The synergy between the exhibition, its current website www.apprenticelines.org, the topical discussion, and the panel created coherence and vigorous interest in continued dialog on the concerns of apprenticeship.

The topical discussion facilitated by Steve Theberge attracted a diverse and lively group of approximately 60 people, including students, former apprentices, and artists who have offered apprenticeships. We received positive feedback, and many younger people reported that it was the first time they had spoken at a public event at NCECA. The discussion drew multiple and diverse perspectives of participants into the conversation, deepened understandings of the complexities of the apprenticeship process, and provided a platform for informed questions that young people are asking going forward. One strong indicator of the value of the discussion is that people did not want it to end. After the allotted time ended, the conversation spilled out into the hallways of the convention center.

The lively and well-attended panel discussion was moderated by Mark Shapiro and featured an international line-up of potters and historians sharing personal and historical perspectives on apprenticeship. Potter Daniel Johnston spoke on his unique and modern expression of the traditional North Carolina apprenticeship model; distinguished Smithsonian Institution-based historian and author Louise Cort discussed the tradition of apprenticeship in Japanese ceramics; and French potter Lucie Brisson recounted the various paths that led to her apprenticeship at Simon Levin’s studio in Wisconsin.