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mentoring program : brainstorming response (very long)

updated wed 26 mar 03


Stephani Stephenson on mon 24 mar 03

Mentoring: OK Mitch I am sitting down to hammer out some responses to your
questions/ideas:(see post by

First impressions: a topic both broad and deep, very complex due to
different 'levels' of mentoring and different individual situations.

just brainstorming here: the following is long and very LOOSELY strung

Benefit: Able to pass on skills, traditions.Provide training/ immersion to
someone who may eventually have the dedication as well as the skill to
contribute to the work of the studio and/or continue the larger tradition
and/or or continue growing into their 'own', as a result of the
apprenticeship .Tangible benefits from the presence of apprentice: labor,
assistance with physical work and operation of the studio , in -kind trade
of skills or income derived from providing housing , food, instruction,
etc. , companionship, sharing of ideas and perspectives. Growth through

I must tell you that one person who I asked about this said he would
welcome the opportunity for 'cheap labor'. Yes , he DID say it in
jest. and yes, this is the last thing I wanted to hear, BUT I think there
is a grain of subliminal truth to it, lurking under the other altruistic
reasons given. Admit it or not, it's down in there, even if the word
'cheap' is removed, 'labor ' is still there. OK maybe not in YOU, yeah,
but that OTHER person is thinking it, right ????!!!! So let it out, then
find how to make this work to the advantage of BOTH parties , who want
their need met, yes?

A studio potter may have too much work for themselves yet may be
unsatisfied, or unfamiliar or burnt out with traditional hiring methods.
Obstacles mentioned , with regard to bringing in someone new, as an
employee or even an apprentice, are the real or imagined added paperwork
, tax work , regulations , exposure to litigation, state, OSHA, etc. which
are perceived to come into play ...or uncertainty about these things. Now
some mentor's have worked with apprentices or 'mentees' ( is this a real
word? too bad I am using it) But MANY MANY have not, or have done so on a
cash only, or casual manner only.

I think a number of prospective small or solo studio 'mentors' would be
very interested , 1, if they could provide input and tailor a situation
2, understand a method or a process clearly, and 3, be assured that
mentoring would not significantly add a large burden in complexity,
paperwork, red tape etc. of studio operation. I think many considering a
live-in or in-studio arrangement would like some information and guidance
on how to best go about it , in a way which provides them some control
over the situation. At least for some it will boil down to that.
For larger and 'model' business oriented studios this may not be such a

ISSUES: In many cases , the mentor will feel like he/she is providing the
main investment of time and space and certainly experience, They will want
to know how to find or screen for a good apprentice. They will have verying
degrees of patience, attitudes, lifestyles. Some will not want to spend
time training ,feeding , putting up someone who is not dedicated, (or
compatible at any rate). They may have very different attitudes about how
to teach, what to share, etc. They are individuals, their studios are their
personal domains, in some cases, these domains will not operate as
democracies .....OK maybe that sounds harsh side,but it is real and it is
personal and it varies!
Of course some have wonderful fabulous working studios and homes, as well
as giving, guiding personalities and mentoring ability. hooray for them,
I know there are some truly marvelous folks out there , and with the
facilities and accommodations , to boot!
But not all mentor level potters will have facilities to provide live- in
situation. Not all will have the desire to provide live- in situation.
Some will have limitations with regard to physical space or economic
means, others will simply want a bit more distance, after working at the
studio day in and day out. Mentors will have differing opinions with
regard to the live-in option. An alternative for some would be a situation
where mentee is responsible for housing during apprenticship.(is this
referred to as in-studio situation?)

Benefits: opportunity to gain in depth skills and knowledge in an immersion
situation. Live in arrangement might make apprenticeship more financially
do-able for some apprentices, as they would not have to come up with
monthly cash for outside living expenses during the apprenticeship.
However, live- in situations don't always work out. People who work well
together , don't always live well together . This will vary from
situation to situation. The mentee can be in a precarious position,
especially if they have quit a job, sold or sublet their prior living
quarters, in order to pursue the apprenticeship. A mentee will want to feel
like they won't be used or rather , abused , for slave labor, (working on
the landscaping and used mainly to improve and increase the the mentor's
property value), or doing ONLY menial labor with no chance of skills
aquisition or growth. I think an apprentice will expect a certain amount
of 'chore ' work however. They will also want to know that they won't end
up stranded on some hillside with a psycho , with no recourse if things get
bad. .
Once a mentee relocates to a new location they can find themselves
isolated, and surprisingly dependent on the mentor, bad if the live -in
relationship is not working out, for one reason or another. The mentor may
have unrealistic expectations, in the eyes of the apprentice. Conversely ,
the apprentice may have unrealistic expectations , or the two may have very
different lifestyles. It happens.I think it will be essential to have
good honest descriptions of each particular situation and ,yes, I think a
written agreement is essential. Perhaps Potter's Council could work to
provide samples of such.

Discussion of expectations, guidelines etc. Important. Mentor and mentee
may have very different ideas of what is expected of them in terms of
workload, types of work, rate of progress in various skills, difference
between hired labor/ apprenticeship/ and 'leisure' education.
Many of us will have had little background in either one of these roles.
Many of us learned in a casual or college or craft class environment and
many of us have taught in those classroom or workshop- only situations or
worked solo in a studio as a self supporting potter . The apprenticeship
method/ model has fallen out of use in this country so we will need to
re-educate and open ourselves to learning nd growing in this direction,
which is ,I believe, a valid and useful direction. There will always be
good 'fits' and not -so- good 'fits' between mentor and mentee. I think the
Potter's Council effort can help by providing standards, models,
guidelines, information, resources, education in ways to successfuly create
and complete as many good experiences as possible .

Some people have reached a point in their lives where they are able or
willing to mentor in some way, yet have a studio situation which is not
conducive to accommodating mentees or apprentices. I think we must
understand that many wonderful potters are working in small
studios....though very skilled and experienced, they may not own their own
studios, and may not feel like they can extend an invitation for a live
-in or even an in -studio apprentice for a variety of reasons. yet they
may in fact want very much to share.
I do think that art centers or even schools, or clay supplier facilities
,etc. could tie into this in the following way.
I could see where a mentor might serve as a 'guest artist/mentor' at a
facility, even a temporary facility for that purpose. They could have a
small number of apprentices, say 2-10 who could work with them, setting up
a working studio within a studio. possibly a good marriage of the in-
studio and in -school or workshop models. This could also be viewed as a
longer in-depth workshop or a short apprenticeship... lasting anywhere
from 2 weeks for some topics , or 1 month to even 6-12 months for others.

This could be a very valuable experience for the mentor, drawing them out
of a sometimes isolated studio, even providing a larger workspace for them
for a time. Also very valuable for the mentees, giving them in- depth
instruction and providing an alternative to sometimes crowded , sketchy
classroom instruction.
I think that clay suppliers as well as art schools could think about
involvement in this way, That is really exciting to me. Terms of agreement,
compenstion may vary. In some situations , the mentor might be paid or
compensated as an instructor or visiting artist. Apprentices may also pay
or receive work stipends. In other situations ,the mentor may use the
opportunity to complete a large commission etc.,. the menteees would
provide assistance with the project. The mentor would receive the benefits
of their assistance in exchange for knowledge shared, in more of a skills
exchange . The host organization would determine how they could benefit
from the project as well, in exchange for providing space, whether this be
in the form of tuition, or possibly something such as installation of a
project, participation by local students, publicity, use of grant funds
These organizations , even local non art centers, are useful venues for
hosting mini conferences, workshops etc.

I have a hard time picturing exactly how this would work. I see a form of
this working on CLAYART where many ask and many counsel, all in a very
fluid, volunteer way which I think works pretty well. Rural states such as
Montana, the Montana Arts Council, for example, has had a program of
phone and email art mentors, categorized by media (potters, painters,
etc). People volunteer for those positions., though they may receive some
form of compensation...I do not know the specifics of how it works, but it
is a great idea for a sparsely populated, geographiclly large state.
I think it would be good to see if those mentors volunteer their time or
are compensated in some way. I have mixed emotions on the notion of mentors
just giving advice for free . I know the dedication and the hearts of many
are quite generous, yet so much about art is taken for granted ,
considered 'available for free'. I think perhaps some type of compensation
would be in order... .again, in- kind compensation might be applicable
instead of cash, but some value for the service performed. Also I wonder if
the long distance mentor relationship would be as reciprocal as an in
-studio or group discussion situation. I.E. with an in-studio situation
the menteee is giving time and labor in return for training and guidance.
With long distance it could possibly turn into mentor:give give give ,
mentee,:gobble gobble gobble, unless something of value, perhaps in the way
of a skills trade, etc. is exchanged for the possibly extensive advice.
then again there is dedication and giving...well that's a topic for a group
to toss around.....
another way I could see the Long distance mentoring working is by smaller
topic or category specific 'chat' or 'mentoring' cells, each with persons
of varying skills, more than one on one...I kind of like this...more of a
group shared responsibility for input, but then again, CLAYART breaks into
side chats quite often....

Categorizing by type of work is a primary way ,I think., though
incorporating the work distribution aspects is a good idea. Some may be
interested in teaching/ learning solely about particular clay forming and
firing methods, others very much interested in learning about studio
organization and business aspects as well. the list can grow quite large
quite fast.... potters, tilemakers, glaze chemistry, wholesale marketing,
taxes and bookeeping for the small studio, architectural ceramics, niche
marketing, wood firing, production pottery,......

mentor /mentee
FINANCIAL FLIP/ FLOP. In some cases the mentor will be secure financially
while the mentee may have little outside financial resources to sustain
them during the apprenticeship. It also occurs to me that in other cases
the mentee will have far greater financial or even studio resources than
the mentor! does this change our thinking on possible ways to structure
the relationship?

All in all, the dfficulty may be in the details . Where to start? With
regard to mini or regional conferences. OK Start there, regardless of what
else happens! That sounds useful to many....With regard to one on one?
Start with a core group of individuals and/or groups or facilities who
are READY , then open the way, build on that core.

Yet still , one question is , how much of an 'umbrella ' to provide?
What is the role of the Potter's Council?Will the mentor and the mentee be
completely on their own with the Potter's council functioning solely as a
source of listings or a means of connecting names??? will there be
guidance and direction given in how to spell out the terms of an
agreement or arrangement? common issues facing mentors and mentees? A
mentor for the mentors? ? a potter's council 'seal of approval' so to
speak ,a bulletin board for feedback? guidelines for mentors and mentees
to better ensure successful experiences and relationships?
and after all this blathering and blithering, have I really just said we
need to come up with a very good questionaire to see what our feedback,
needs , desires and suggestions are?

Yah , yah, all blahhed out for now.

yours truly( haven't used that phrase since penmanship class....)

Stephani Stephenson