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Apprenticeship



Peter is right--there's no substitute for apprenticeship. When I was
working for Daniel Knowlton in 1969 I lived in the carriage house (over the
horse), in a room off the bindery (Bristol, RI). In 1974 there were three
apprentices working for me, Bob Bretz, Robert Espinosa and Gloria Zuss.
When I switched from being a private studio to a public not-for-profit, it
was their hard work that got the Center for Book Arts started. In the
beginning it was just the four of us. By the time a couple of years went by
there were five apprentices at a time, generally for a two year period,
though Mindy Dubansky stayed four years.

In 1975 and 76 there was support for this from the NEA, which gave me a
grant each year from the Master Craftsman's Apprenticeship Program
($3,000-- of which I got $300 and the apprentice got $2,700). For a few
years after that they provided an institutional apprenticeship grant, which
paid two of the Center's apprentices per year.

I believe it was around 1977 that I was asked to be a Founding Director
(Board member) of the National Council on Apprenticeship in Art and Crafts.
This group included Ceramists, Woodworkes, Metalsmiths, Weavers,
Glassblowers, etc. It started with a national conference on the subject,
and with about two years' work we produced a book -- a manual of sorts-- on
Apprenticeship in Art and Crafts. It was based on surveys of the
experiences of masters and apprentices from all over the country. The book
dealt with the finding (from both sides), training, nurturing and releasing
of apprentices, both paid and unpaid, as well as practical things like
contracts and agreements, etc.  Maybe Gerry (at Studio Potter magazine)
still has some copies, if you're interested.

One thing that interested me was that a major difference between American
and European apprenticeships was that the American apprentice was learning
a lifestyle as much as a craft. Most of the American masters were studio
artists or artisans using craft techniques for artistic expression. The
apprentices would, for the most part, live with the master and participate
in the craft as part of a creative life process.

By 1980 the apprenticeship program at the Center ended. It was too much
work, and the trend was toward classes and workshops. In many ways it's
neater (less ambiguous or messy). The students pay $$, the teachers are
paid $$, and at the end of the semester (or workshop) it's over. There
isn't any question about "did the apprentice learn enough," or "did the
master (or institution) get enough work out of the apprentice." The
responsibilities are clearly defined. At the Center for Book Arts, every
student is given a teacher evaluation form at the end of the class, to
insure that the quality of training (organization, presentation, material,
etc.) is maintained, and that the students' expectations are met (that the
catalog descriptions are accurate). It's a different way of passing on the
knowledge.

Last year the Center reinstituted an apprenticeship program. Because for
all the positive features of the school system, there is still something to
be gained from the commitment to an individual's development. I take
apprentices in my own studio (with a few years' experience), as well. It
keeps me on my toes.

--
Richard
http://www.avsi.com/minsky/


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