Bernard Leach and apprentices.

Bernard Leach and apprentices.

Apprenticeship is studio-based, hands-on learning that offers entry into a community of practice through the transmission of deep skills. It offers sustained firsthand participation in an artist’s life and work. It’s intensive hands-on immersion is unique among educational formats. For a young person, an apprenticeship inculcates professional practices and attitudes and maps a practical and attainable path to a career as a studio artist.

Of course, it’s a two-way street: established potters naturally need the muscle-power and energy that youth provide, and bringing a young person along can fulfill a cultural debt by transmitting the knowledge gleaned from their own mentors and years of studio experience. Beyond altruistic satisfaction, established potters benefit from sharing the energy and cultural perspectives of the next generation.

Apprenticeship is inexpensive: peer-to-peer education circumvents the staggering overhead of many academic settings. It proposes an economically sustainable model at a time when growing income inequality has lead to starkly unequal educational opportunities. One of the historically consistent strengths of the clay community has been its broad, welcoming culture. If anything, we need to become more inclusive and diverse, bringing more voices into our fold.

Beyond the important cost savings, apprenticeship addresses the growing difficulty of accessing skills-based craft education during a time of shrinking academic programs. Apprenticeship proposes a vibrant alternative vision of engagement, community, and sustainability in a shifting field of fewer tenure-track jobs, degrading adjunct salaries, declining wholesale galleries and craft show environments, aging collectors, and a confusing retail landscape that is becoming simultaneously big-boxed and DIY-ed. The pressure to capitulate to the trends of the moment is great. But the education of subsequent generations and the preservation of a unique body of craft knowledge and practice is essential to the field.