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Adopt a Potter

by Phil Rogers

Published: July 2011

The Charity ‘Adopt a Potter’ came into being because of a recognition by potter Lisa Hammond that wheel thrown ceramics was, to a large extent, being overlooked in our colleges. Together with the shift away from ‘pottery’ to what one might call ‘conceptual ceramics’ the closure of a number of ceramics courses meant that students with a primary interest in ‘making vessels’ were left lacking in basic skills, workshop practice and the essentials of running a studio based business. ‘Adopt a Potter’ is now a registered charity with 6 trustees including potters Yo Thom, Phil Rogers and John Higgins and Lisa Hammond, while Phil Rhodes and Graham Jenner provide commercial, business and accounting expertise.
Lisa Hammond has had a succession of ‘apprentices’ at her potteries both in Mazehill Greenwich and now at Kigbeare in Devon. Most, if not all of these young people she has mentored are now full time and successful potters in their own right, that is testament to the way in which they were nurtured and encouraged to ‘fly’ during their time with Lisa.
Eventually Lisa had the idea to try and bring together those potters who need assistance in their workshops and those people who require to learn from an experienced and established maker. In bringing those two parties together she also wanted to fund the relationship for a period of one year. Adopt a Potter’s role is therefore two fold… to bring student and master together and, perhaps more importantly, to raise the funds required to enable a student to be with a master for one year without the worry of the potter having to pay wages or the student from struggling to afford the placement. Currently, we provide £5,000 a year which is delivered directly to the student. The established potter is encouraged to provide what ever they can…accommodation perhaps, sustenance, a small supplementary wage… none of which are compulsory. There is a rigorous selection process and the applicants have to prove their commitment to their craft while ‘Adopt a Potter‘ has to be satisfied that, in all probability, the relationship that the funding enables will work and be a fruitful, mutually beneficial experience for both parties.
Our two previous adoptees have been a wonderfully rewarding success for all concerned. Sheila Herring was apprenticed to Jeremy Steward at Wobage Farm in Herefordshire. As Sheila says… “Through my apprenticeship I’ve come to appreciate the vast range of skills needed to address the myriad of tasks involved in potting. I very much appreciate the opportunity I have had, the support and encouragement from the ‘Adopt a Potter’ Trust, Jeremy and all the makers at Wobage. I feel I have gained deep appreciation of a rewarding and fulfilling job, a way of life.”
Fleen Doran continues to work with wood firing potter Micki Schloessingk at Bridge Pottery in Cheriton on the Gower Peninsular. I have spoken with both Fleen and Micki and they have both told me individually that the apprenticeship has been one of the best experiences of their lives. As Micki says… “It is very important to me to support Fleen in finding ways to become viable. She now runs a successful evening class here and is highly praised for the warmth and clarity of her teaching. So we have fun together, work hard and keep having ideas. We remember to bring joy into our potting. Working together with the support of ‘Adopt a Potter’ has worked really well for us and I would encourage others to consider taking this path.”
And Fleen herself… “My apprenticeship feels like a very steady, thorough, supported way of learning and it is giving me a very balanced experience. It is inspiring to be developing my making skills and deepening my understanding with someone so passionate and experienced in potting and firing.”
It is obvious to us all that this scheme works beyond our expectations. For the adoptees the time spent with their mentors really does provide the foundation for a career while, for the adopter, the twelve months provides not just an assistant, but the company of an enthusiastic, like minded individual who relights the fire of creativity that can dim within the solitude and drudgery that can be the existence of a potter working alone.
The Trustees meet in the Autumn to choose the next pair of Apprentice and Master, and invite applications.  Full details of how to apply can be found on the website.
Fund raising isn’t easy. At present ‘Adopt a Potter’ maintains a presence at most of the ceramics shows and endeavours to raise cash with Tombolas. We have created a succession of designer tee shirts. The first one, a colourful and energetic illustration by the brilliant and emerging illustrator Tom Hovey, sold very well. The second by well known artist Breon O’Casey has become a collector’s item. The potter and artist Adam Frew (a former Hammond apprentice) designed another of our limited edition shirts. All three shirts are still available. We have been lucky enough to secure the sponsorship of individuals and companies to produce the shirts thereby maximising the profitability on their sales.
The fact is that ‘Adopt a Potter’ needs help. We need help from anyone willing to lend a hand at shows and fairs. We need help from anyone with an interest in the longevity of this craft of ours and who would like to donate time, expertise, cash or all three toward our aims and objectives.
‘Adopt a Potter’ was born out of a desire to supplement a deficiency in the established ceramic education system. The overwhelming success of our first two adoptions has confirmed for the trustees the absolute worth of what we are trying to achieve. Our ultimate aim is to provide at least two adoptions per year ….more if we can. To realise that aim we must raise the funds to support our ambitions and to be able to do that we need the support of everyone who sees our stand at the various fairs and shows that we attend. Please come and say hello… give us a few pounds… buy a tombola ticket… write us a cheque… you can be sure that every penny we raise will contribute to and thereby enable the career aspirations of a potter.

Contact details:
General enquiries: maddycarra@gmail.com
Apprenticeship applications: yo@yothom.com
www.adoptapotter.org.uk

 
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