“. . . the potter’s apprentice must spend an initial period of observation and imitation, and ultimately he has to undergo a long practicum on the wheel in order to master the physical, mechanical, and technical coordination required to fully harness the power of the wheel with the skill of his hands.” –Eleni Hasaki, “Craft Apprenticeship in Ancient Greece: Reaching Beyond the Masters.” In Archaeology and Apprenticeship: Body Knowledge, Identity, and Communities of Practice, 2012.
It’s during this third week that we finally began to understand the complexity and difficulty behind the creation of our ancient cups. After a short 15-minute bus ride from campus, we arrived at Baltimore Clayworks, the epicenter for our apprenticeship. Our graduate student mentor, Ross Brendle, led a brief discussion on ancient apprenticeship models and attributions to ancient master potters before we turned to modern master potter, Matthew Hyleck, for an introduction to ceramics. Over half the class had never worked with clay before, and, finding myself in that category, I was quickly overwhelmed by the words “bisque,” “shrinkage,” “absorption,” “leather-hard,” “bone dry,” “grog,” “slip,” and so on. But as examples of these different stages of clay were passed around, I began to gain a tactile understanding of the terms. Leather-hard clay felt sturdy, but could easily be marred. Bone dry felt more unyielding, yet still could surprisingly be scratched. Slip looked shiny and smooth, but generated friction against a finger. Matt pointed out our resources: a drying rack, wedging stations, slab rollers, and sinks. He then took us for a tour of the building, which was filled to the brim of various artists’ works. Some plain, some outlandish, and some as precisely decorated as our ancient pots. In the basement were fine examples of modern-day kilns, and amongst the metal beasts was our updraft kiln – large, clay slabs formed in cylindrical and domed pieces.