The studio apprenticeship position is an opportunity for someone interested in becoming a professional potter or studio artist.

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

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. Except for the cost of fuel and studio materials, 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

This apprenticeship 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.

Floyd County, Virginia is a rural farm community. It is situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Blacksburg, the home of Virginia Tech University, is half an hour away. Roanoke is one hour away. Floyd is a community of craftspeople, wineries, musicians and organic farms. There are opportunities for jobs and housing in the county.

In the late 1970s, I was hired to be a potter-in- residence at Berea College in Kentucky. Part of the agreement was that I would teach one class each semester and help run the ceramics department’s apprenticeship program, which was part of the college’s “Craft Industries.” The sale of student-made crafts funded a work-study program to pay for the students’ education. By the 1970s, the apprenticeship program at Berea College had existed for many years. I worked there approximately four years and came to value the concept of apprenticeship.

After leaving Berea, my husband and I established working studios in Floyd County, Virginia, a rural community in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a progressive and an old-time place at the same time, with beautiful scenery and a community that is very supportive of the arts and music. It’s a good place to be self-employed, but it takes some time to find one’s niche. I have been here for the past twenty-six years.

Silvie Granatelli and Dandee Pattee.

Dandee Pattee (l) and Silvie Granatelli at the Woodpile. Photograph by Brad Warstler.

After my marriage ended in the mid-1990s, I found myself with what I considered to be a huge studio. The idea of taking on an apprentice came back to me as an option. However, after so many years of working independently in the studio, of making pots that were not production oriented, I wasn’t sure how to develop an apprenticeship relationship with young potters. My problem was really not that I needed help making my “line” of pots, but that I had more space than one potter needs to work in. It took several years and a few false starts before I realized what I could offer besides space.

As well as doing something interesting, I wanted to give something back. I remembered what could have been helpful to me as a young potter, and tried to find ways to provide that help for theirs. When I was beginning, it was hard to invest heavily in equipment, studio space, and materials, to learn how to market what I made, and to present in the best possible way what I wanted to make. Most of all, never having worked in a studio alone, I had no idea how much work it would take to make a living.

Those of us in it for the long haul make our way through these unknowns with varying degrees of success. So I had my expertise to offer, along with space and equipment. I decided to call my appointment an assistantship. Embedded in that concept was also the notion of mentorship. My situation did not fit into the traditional apprenticeship model. It would not be a paid position, and the potters who came to work with me would not make my pots. The exchange would be twelve hours of work each week in return for studio space, the use of studio equipment, and my expertise. I decided to set a specific time commitment of two years, which would give an incoming potter adequate time to develop a body of work, begin to market that work, and make a life in the community.

In the past ten years, I have had five assistants – men and women – each working for about two years. All of them came with undergraduate degrees. I require that they have a good working knowledge of the studio, including the ability to fire a gas kiln and make glazes, as well as some understanding of ceramic materials and processes. Moreover, at this stage they must be interested in becoming professional potters. Whether they end up teaching, being potters, or something else is not important; I only require a commitment to the investigation of being a potter when they begin. It is my hope that they will develop cyclical rhythms of work, learn what it takes to make the amount of pottery that will sustain them in earning a living, and begin to develop ways to present this work to the public. I often say that they have to make the studio the center of their life during this time. Other work, social life, and whatever else they are interested in should fit around this core.

It is important to me to have a professional relationship with my studio assistants. They do not live with me; I only take care of their studio concerns. Many of my assistants have expressed feeling lonely during their first year. Until they develop a relationship to the studio that has deep meaning, this presents a problem. By the second year, everyone has experienced a shift in this regard, enjoying the focus and the time alone to work and think. I believe this is the most frustrating aspect of my relationship with my assistants – to find ways to help them get to this place of rhythm and focus while being alone. I think I do it mostly by example. In each case, I have come to value the friendship that develops. It has been a welcomed bonus, not a prerequisite.

Green and yellow platter by Dandee Pattee

Earthenware platter by Dandee Pattee, 16″ dia.

In the beginning, the studio assistant works at his or her own pace. I encourage them to ask for whatever they need from me; I give critiques, advice, and discourse on request, but I do not direct what they make or how they make it. If after six months they are not developing what I consider to be a committed life in the studio, we have a little chat and agree on an adjustment period to get on track. It is not my intention to make their life easy.

In my opinion, being a potter can be a very humbling experience, especially during the early years when rejection can happen often and money is scarce. I believe it is in our best interest to develop a thick skin. In the end, most potters work alone, from our heads and hearts. We have to develop our own pots – pots that, even though influenced by our teachers and mentors, do not look like someone else’s work. I encourage my assistants to have their own glazes, forms, and ideas, and I try to help them develop this work.

pitcher-by-dandee-pattee

Earthenware pitcher by Dandee Pattee, 8″.

At the beginning of our relationship, the assistants are often reluctant to sell their work. They feel they are not ready, thinking they are not making the kinds of pots they will make later on in their development. I believe it is important to always put our best current work out there and let the people we are trying to communicate with make their own decisions. This will tell us a lot about what we make. At whatever stage of development, there is an audience at about that same level of sophistication. As we grow into our work, our patrons grow with us and we grow, in part, because of them.

The essence of a pot is to give and receive simultaneously, and a potter gives and receives in much the same way. I have worked with Jerilyn Virden, Ian Anderson, Anna Metcalfe, Brian Jones, and Elisa Di Feo; Dandee Pattee is my current studio assistant. My past assistants have all gone on to graduate programs and received degrees. I have felt proud and privileged to work with each of them. They have made my world larger by their unique selves and I hope I have done the same for them.

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Current & Past Apprentices

Elizabeth McAdams
Elizabeth McAdamsCurrent Apprentice
Elizabeth is a North Carolina native who grew up on her family’s farm in Efland, NC. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a degree in studio art and minor in art history. She has most recently worked as a studio assistant for Sugar Maples Center for Creative Arts, was the working artist for Longwood University in Farmville, Va, and did a year-long wood firing ceramics residency at Cub Creek Foundation in Appomattox, VA.
Visit Elizabeth’s site
Greta Wilsterman
Greta WilstermanApprentice 2017-2019
Greta is a potter from New England. She received her B.F.A from the Maine College of Art with a major in Ceramics and a minor in Art History. The convergence of a long time interest in the value of domesticity, cooking, and craft process began a love for exploring the subtleties of clay as a functional medium.
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Lucas Jankovsky
Lucas JankovskyApprentice 2015-2017
Lucas is a sculptural artist from northwest Georgia. He received his B.F.A in 2013 from Kennesaw State University. Lucas has worked for several professional artists in a wide range of processes. Including clay modeling, stainless steel/ bronze fabrication, public art installation, woodworking, and mold-making for public bronzes.
Abby Reczek
Abby ReczekApprentice 2013-2015
“I like to think of my pottery as a bond to the earth in its purest form. It continues to mimic the earth even after it has been extracted and manipulated. Respect for the earth is something that I strive to embrace throughout the entire process of making pots and which I honor through the designs that are carved into the forms.”
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Andrea Denniston
Andrea DennistonApprentice 2011-2013
“Through my pots I aspire to add pomp to daily living. I combine the necessary with the unnecessary – utility and ornament. In doing so, I work to make unique and engaging objects. My hope is that the pots I create spur curiosity in others by requiring them to look closely with both their hands and their eyes, as a visual examination alone is not enough.”
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Seth Guzovsky
Seth GuzovskyApprentice, 2013
“Throwing uniform vessels with voluptuous curves and clean lines comforts me. Fun for me is filling tables and shelves with consistent curves and functional forms. Altering these vessels immediately after the wheel stops, allows me to stretch the bellies and reshape the lips of my pots.”
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Jessica Wertz
Jessica WertzApprentice, 2010-2013
“My family’s tradition of eating meals together has taught me the importance that pots facilitate in bringing people together. Pots offer a unique tactile relationship and I elevate them to the ideal that a culture is rich when it can (visually and emotionally) coalesce engaging art with an everyday purpose and function.”
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Wendy Wrenn Werstlein
Wendy Wrenn WerstleinApprentice 2009-2011
“My work is moving towards a more organic appearance, often altered away from the perfect circle of the wheel. Through these forms and patterns emerge lines of communication. I am learning that the communication of pottery happens most often in the absence of language.”
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Sarah Camille Wilson
Sarah Camille WilsonApprentice 2008-2010
“The materiality of clay is indispensable to the construction of my work. Through ruptures in the surface of the clay, I convey the interiority of the object, and suggest things beneath the surface that are neither visible nor understood.”
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Dandee Pattee
Dandee PatteeApprentice 2007-2008
Dandee makes functional pieces that display abundance and benevolence. Functional pottery has a rich history. She plays with that history and makes her pieces appear as if they are overflowing with plenty.
Dandee’s Facebook page
Elisa Di Feo
Elisa Di FeoApprentice 2005-2007
“The acts of conveying sustenance and of personal intimacy are characteristics of functional pottery that interest me, and I convey those ideas into my current work to heighten a sense of intimacy and accessibility.”
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Brian Jones
Brian JonesApprentice 2003-2005
Brian shows work nationally and has been a resident artist at Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts and The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, PA. Jones lives in Portland.
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Anna Metcalfe
Anna MetcalfeApprentice 2001-2003
Interested in the junction of public art and craft, she makes work inspired by water, agriculture, food and community. As a teaching artist, Metcalfe loves to promote collaboration and interdisciplinary learning environments between the sciences and art-making.
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Ian Anderson
Ian AndersonApprentice 1999-2001
Ian has exhibited work nationally, and received the Mentor Program Award from the American Craft Council in 2005. He has taught Ceramics at Rowan University, The Clay Studio, The Ceramic Shop, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Penland School of Arts and Crafts.
Jerilyn Virden
Jerilyn VirdenApprentice, 1997-1999
Using the vernacular of the vessel, I use earthenware clay to create intimate spaces. Each form employs a language that reveals its intentions. My interest lies in the slight shifts within the arc of a bowl that determines the nature of the containment. Looking to primitive objects that have a contemporary relevance, I pare down forms and exaggerate isolated elements accentuating their sense of generosity and strength.
Visit Jerilyn’s website