The Berea College Ceramic Apprenticeship Program

Berea College Ceramic Apprenticeship Program: Shaping Excellence

            Berea College, a small liberal arts college in central Kentucky, supports a variety of beneficent programs, but one in particular glimmers out among the rest. In 1970, the Berea College Craft department instated the Ceramic Apprenticeship Program. This addition to Berea’s traditional folk arts offered, and continues to offer today, a way for students to hone a both professional, and personally uplifting skill.

            The Berea College Ceramic Apprenticeship Program (BCCAP or CAP) employs a master ceramicist and a resident potter to operate the studio, teach ceramic classes, and supervise the apprentices. This semester, we have the talents of Sarah Gross and Philip Wiggs. With their support, each apprentice creates mugs, bowls, cups, and vases to be sold at local Berea College stores. But this labor position molds much more than a paycheck; the CAP offers students like me employability for the future and peace of mind for the moment. 

            Because Berea College is a work college, giving tuition free scholarships in exchange for 10 hours of work per week, it offers many labor positions with experience to add to students’ resumes. CAP encapsulates a unique combination of time management, creativity, and professional skills which separate it from other labor positions. As a potter, I know that time management stands out as a skill: I must be aware when the clay I mix has the best consistency for use on the wheel, when I can trim or add a handle, when to place in a piece in the kiln, and how to have all my pieces finished by my quota -900$ per semester- due-date. This delicate process teaches the apprentices the valuable virtue of patience, whether in dealing with one piece through fazes of creation, or with shaping porcelain as soft as cream cheese.

            Creativity plays a key role in the apprenticeship program. Each variety mug, 8 oz., 12 oz., and 16 oz., must reach quality expectations such as volume, glaze consistency, and smoothed bottoms, as well as avoid problems such as small crevices in clay body or glaze mistakes where bacteria could grow. While maneuvering such obstacles, apprentices are given creative freedom to develop individual shapes, handles, colors, and styles. We make what we love; how wonderful it is for Berea College to not only make a small profit from our work, but share our passion to customers who often love our work even more than we do.

            The CAP benefits more than just customers’ kitchens and the College’s pockets: For apprentices like me, my job becomes a kind of therapy, a wonderful escape into my artistic side. Often times pottery becomes a personal work – the extreme, continuous focus, the angle from the wheel, the deep physical engagement with your work, all combine to give apprentices a job where every finished product is distinctly their own. Sitting at the wheel, slowly breathing, gently spreading and raising the walls of the clay, I am able to more clearly see myself, shape myself, and escape from the hectically spinning world around me.

            As a potter, my labor position shapes more than just mugs and bowls: it shapes me. The time I spend in the pottery studio teaches me patience, time management, and self-criticism in the quality of my work. To meet my quota I must work through the process of making pottery and effectively using my time, energy, and creativity. This personal growth has built a sense of responsibility and diligence into my work ethic that I didn’t know I was lacking. Thanks to Berea College's Ceramic Apprentice program, I was able to grow my passion for pottery and do what I love to pay for school. Awesome.

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Comment by Brigitte Martin on January 12, 2013 at 12:42pm
Great post. If you have some pictures of the ceramic studio facilities, pls post them as well. Thank you.

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