Reversing the Trend

About this panel - by Mary Ann Steggles

In The Last Sane Man. Michael Cardew. Modern Pots, Colonialism, and the Counterculture, Tanya Harrod laments that when she began the autobiography of Michael Cardew in 2001, there was 'a perceived loss of craft skill in Britain'. That sentiment is echoed around the world as many struggle to find adequate training in order to become studio potters.

shelves of student work, University of ManitobaI first became worried about the students graduating from the School of Art in Manitoba where I am an administrator after giving a talk in March 2012. In that presentation, I spoke about a research project that I had begun a year earlier. In 2011 I sent out 300 questionnaires asking potters in Canada, the US, Australia, Japan and England to comment on whether or not they were able to make a living solely from pottery sales. Another question that I asked them was if they saw a future for persons wanting to live entirely off the creation of domestic ware. By the evening of my talk, 'Where Have all the Potters Gone?' I had received 458 responses to 600 questionnaires sent out. In the question and answer session that followed, I was horrified to hear that students ready to graduate with a major in ceramics could not throw a bowl on a potter's wheel nor did they know about glazes. Several told me that they could not even operate a simple electric kiln. What was wrong? What was going to happen to these students who longed to make a living creating production domestic ware? Was there anything they could do besides work at MacDonald's to pay off a $78,000 student loan?

Student work from third year throwing classOf course what my students were telling me was echoed in the responses that I had received from the questionnaires. It was readily apparent that there is a world-wide crisis in ceramic education - and in particular, ceramic education that focuses on the production of functional ware. In Canada there are no standards for graduating students to meet. Universities and colleges have very polished and glossy websites and catalogues but they have hired instructors who not only do not know anything about glaze calculation but they don't even know to teach students to sieve glaze materials before application! Most of these instructors were told when they were receiving their education that it was the concept and the content that was important not the materials and the process. How then can we expect them to pass on quality education when they might not even have received it themselves? Because of my findings I have been asked to re-evaluate the ceramics programme at our School of Art. My biggest concern is that it is beginning to appear that colleges and universities might well not be the place for people to learn production pottery. So where should they go? And what is it that is essential to learn if someone wants to make their living solely from creating quality domestic ware? is it even possible to do this in 2014?
This round table examines the broad theme of education as it relates to studio production. Where can interested persons, no matter their age, get the training they desire? Is it to be found in colleges and universities? Should we be returning to an apprenticeship system with measurable goals and outcomes? Should everyone join together to create an international 'Adopt the Potter Movement' like Lisa Hammond did in Britain? What positive outcomes can come from opportunities like Guldagergaard's Project Network for our recent graduates in North America to meet one another and perhaps together create communal studios to help with costs, marketing, and research development? How can we work together to help others live the life that Leach, Hamada, and Cardew did? Is this even possible?

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