Creative Resources for Creative People

The Journeyman

by Mirka Golden-Hann

It is not every day that my husband brings home strange women that pop into his work at Salisbury Cathedral's stone-masonry yard.

This was an exception. Ami, a German journeyman, or rather woman, came to Salisbury for the first time some few weeks before Christmas. This was her third and final year of being on the road, gathering experience as a stone mason and, after visiting many countries on mainland Europe, she decided to come to England.

As a journeyman she was, of course, looking for work within her trade. Her first journey in England took her to Canterbury cathedral, but unfortunately they could not offer her work, although the journeyman is only allowed to stay and work for three months at a time in one place.

She tried her luck in Salisbury, though with the same outcome. We'd planned a trip to Wells in Somerset that weekend and offered Ami a lift to try her luck at Wells Cathedral stonemasons, where she was offered a place to work for three months. This allowed her to settle down for a little time on her travels and gave her the opportunity to earn some money to go and explore the country. During her five months stay in UK she also visited Scotland, The Orkney Islands and The Isle of Sky.

Amy's work in the Cheddar workshop of Wells Cathedral stonemasons came to an end in February and she decided to go on a pilgrimage walking from Cheddar to Santiago de Compostela. On her way to Portsmouth harbour she came back and stayed with my family for a few days.

I was, and still am intrigued about the way of life she has been leading for the past many months.

Ami was born 26 years ago in Schwäbisch Gmünd close to Stuttgart to a very close farming family of four sisters and one brother. After finishing her formal education, Ami decided to study sculpture at Art College. During her second year of studies the school was visited by a lady journeyman who talked to the students about the ethos of journeymanship and about her personal experiences. Ami was hooked and knew that, after finishing her studies, that was what she would do.

The origin of the journeymen dates from the Middle Ages when, upon completion of their apprentiships, craftsmen undertook their journeys in order to gather the necessary experience to become masters of their craft. Without completing the journey, they would not be accepted by the ancient guilds to even attempt the mastership exams. "Stonemasons were the first tradesmen to take to the journeys," she explained. This was primarily because there were always several cathedrals and other major buildings under construction at any one time all over Europe and therefore the stonemasons were already a travelling trade.

It did not take long before trades such as carpenters, blacksmiths, potters and many others followed suit and this tradition became the norm across Europe. It is mainly thanks to these travelling craftsmen that new styles and techniques passed from country to country. The journeymen not only learnt, but became travelling teachers as they passed on their accumulated knowledge.

During the 19th century journeymanship experienced a steady decline and there were very few who took it up after the Second World War. It is only recently that this ancient ideal has found new followers, perhaps something to do with the relatively high unemployment in today's Germany, and so young Germans see this as an opportunity to not only better themselves, but also fill time. This is not a 'year out' though; there is a strict set of rules to be obeyed by the journeyman

un-changed since the Middle Ages. Some of the conditions for becoming a journeyman are; a finished apprentiship in the given craft, journeymen must not be married and must not have any children, they must have no debts and no criminal record.

Other rules concern the journey itself, for example; the journeyman must not come within 50km of their home, they must not carry any possessions, if possible they should not spend money on transport, food and lodgings, therefore learning to rely on the goodness of people. They are not only to become acquainted with different techniques and methods, but they are also to mature by meeting different people, learning their languages and respecting their customs.

There are currently five conservative (old fashioned) associations and two fairly new associations of journeymen in Germany. All craftsmen doing their journeymanship at the moment belong to one of these associations and conduct their journey in accordance with the individual rules of their association. A similar scheme also operates in France; however the Germans still keep to the old traditions as much as they can.

This would also explain the very unusual uniform which every journeyman must wear during the duration of their journey. The cut of the uniform has not changed for over 150 years. It consists of top hat, double breasted waistcoat, white shirt with wide sleeves, bell bottom trousers and jacket. The jacket has up to twenty pockets, where she carries half of her belongings, the rest, along with her clothes and small sleeping bag, she carries all rolled up into two small, neat bundles attached to the end of her walking stick. Different trades use different fabrics and different colours. For stonemasons it is grey wide cord. The uniform was specially sewn by a master tailor and cost Ami approximately £500. The traveller has one uniform for work, one when they are on the road, but they have to wear this uniform for the whole three years. "After two and a half years I look forward to wearing something normal, like a skirt again!" Ami admitted.

The usual journeymanship takes two years. During the first year craftsmen do stay within their own country and the following year travel abroad. Ami, however, opted for the extended three years and a day, giving her more opportunities abroad.

In her uniform Ami has already travelled and worked throughout Switzerland, Hungary, Italy and France, getting from place to place mainly by hitch-hiking.

In Germany the scheme is widely recognised and respected. Many towns welcome travellers such as Ami by giving them free board and lodging. A traveller would go to the town hall, where they would be immediately recognised by their uniform. On many occasions none other than the mayor themselves would greet the traveller and stamp their "Wanderbuch" (Travel book) with the town stamp as proof of the journeyman's visit.

The life in Germany is therefore relatively easy, it becomes much more difficult once abroad. " I've had to deal with abuse not just for wearing an unusual outfit, but in some countries also because I was a lone woman travelling".

She had encountered hostility not just from ordinary people who find her way of learning hard to fathom, but from people of church, which was difficult for her to comprehend, as most of her work she dedicates to churches; subsequently however, the good from people that she received was all the more genuine, as they did not know what she was about.

I remember myself on many of my own travels, (although never as adventurous as Amy's) relying on the good will of others and it is a very soul cleansing experience.

Meeting Ami reminded us why we became craftworkers, that what we do is a vocation and not a mere job. I admire Ami for taking herself alone across Europe in search of deeper knowledge of her craft and herself as a person. So I beg, if one day you should see someone who looks like a character from a fairy tale, show them a little kindness and be a part of their adventure.

Craftsman Magazine - Issue 169
Contemporary Glass Society

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