Do apprenticeships still exist? How can I get one?
December 16, 2008 1:10 AM   Subscribe

Are there apprenticeships (Blacksmith, Glass Blower, Luthier, etc.) anymore? How can I get one? Where should I look?

I like making things with my hands. I'm a sophomore in college, and I want to use my hands for my summer job (Summer 2009). Different types of apprenticeships I've tried to find are blacksmithing, glassblowing, marble sculpting and luthiers' school. I'm not set on any particular field, just something that lets me learn a new hands-on skill that I'd never otherwise be able to learn. I figure this is what college summers are for. I don't mind traveling to some far off place, but I'll have to figure out living arrangements for any apprenticeship that's not in Huntsville, Alabama or Williamsburg, Virginia. Got any ideas or suggestions or offers that will help me find an interesting (hopefully paid, but not necessarily) hands-on apprenticeship?
posted by cmchap to Work & Money (14 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. Call a company who does this work and ask what training they had. Some may have done mainstream apprenticeships and specialised later, or they may offer in house courses. Whether you can do this in a summer I doubt - most apprecticeships are upwards of 3 years. You probably won't be allowed to touch rare marble or expensive metal to start.

There is definitely still a call for this work in the heritage and restoration building trades, and it's likely to be in bigger cities with more older buildings, but it's out there.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:39 AM on December 16, 2008

When I visited the New Hampshire Farm Museum last year, the blacksmith there told us that they're one of a small network of blacksmith shops that have something like an apprenticeship program. I don't remember the details or where the other shops were, but you could try getting in touch for details.
posted by daisyace at 4:15 AM on December 16, 2008

I agree with Matt. My experience (in fine woodworking rather than sign painting) is that apprenticeships inherently involve a much longer commitment than you're in a position to make. If you can afford it, taking a class is probably a more workable idea.
posted by jon1270 at 4:28 AM on December 16, 2008

I agree with the posters above.

If you're serious about this, I'd suggest finding an artist you admire/respect and then contacting him directly.

My husband makes drums. He constantly has college kids come up to him, starry-eyed, and tell him how much they want to make drums. We've given a few a chance, but they always flake out after a few weeks. Why? Because it's hard work. It's not all glamorous. Running boards through the band saw for 8 hours, following a traced line, is boring. Sanding drum shells for hours is boring. They're vital parts of the process, though. And we sure aren't going to hand you a chisel and put you at the lathe right away; you need to show attention to detail, the ability to follow directions, an understanding of tool safety, etc.

My advice: if you do this, understand that you're going to start out doing grunt work. If you get asked to mop the floor or help with something not directly job-related (like emptying crap out of the guest room when the artist's mother-in-law is coming to visit), do it cheerfully. Training you is hard work and somewhat of an imposition. (Everything has to slow down when we're training someone new.) Anything you can do to make the artist's life easier is a good thing. And for God's sake, if you commit to working the entire summer, then do it. The kids who quit after a week make it harder for everyone who comes after them wanting a chance.
posted by belladonna at 6:15 AM on December 16, 2008

Apprenticeships are definitely available, but it's foolish to think that you are going to get one for summer work. I apprenticed as a screen printer before graduate school. It took me at least 8-9 months of full-time work to really begin to understand what I was doing and why. By the time my 18 months were up, I would say that I was proficient at the basic tasks of the craft and able to begin really learning the ins-and-outs of it.

If you ever are serious about an apprenticeship, I recommend going finding and contacting professional artisan associations and asking them. For instance, I know that here in Louisville, there is a large glass blowing educational center and they have opportunities ranging from weekend classes to full apprenticeships.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:43 AM on December 16, 2008

Sounds like what you want is summer camp, not an apprenticeship.
posted by piedmont at 7:23 AM on December 16, 2008

If you just want to learn about blacksmithing, glassblowing, welding, and the like, there's a place in Oakland, CA, called the Crucible, which offers classes in all these things and more. It's the opposite of an apprenticeship, in that you'd not only not get paid but you'd pay them to take classes, but you would definitely gain the skills you're talking about.
posted by apostrophe at 7:49 AM on December 16, 2008

Work as a maintenance worker at a country club, that's what I did for my college summers. I think all of the followup posts touch on the important point that apprenticeships are for people wanting to learn the field, not for entertainment. What artist would waste his time on you? By all means, look. But realize it's a shot in the dark, and you should plan on a more traditional summer job. That doesn't mean said summer job can't be somewhere cool and different, like Hawaii.
posted by teabag at 8:00 AM on December 16, 2008

Agree with above that it sounds like you want to go through a summer-learning process not an apprenticeship. The Crucible sounds so cool...they have been featured on Mythbusters. ReadyMade had a feature about adult summer camps in their June/July issue this year.
posted by radioamy at 8:20 AM on December 16, 2008

All of the disciplines you mention have steep learning curves, and I'd suggest taking a class to learn the basics before offering up your skills to a master. Here's a list of Programs in Glass. A number of art schools (particularly in the south) have excellent glass programs. Up north, I know RISD and Alfred are highly regarded. I'm sure they all have summer programs with intensive glass work where you will spend the summer sweating in front of a glory hole.

My local glass studio/education center is Urban Glass in Brooklyn, and they offer a variety of educational programs and internships/assistantships. The interns are generally already proficient in glass, and they get free studio time and possibly a stipend for assisting with classes. Neophytes (like myself) generally pay for classes, but you might be able to work something out with them. It may not be as glamorous as an apprenticeship, but many studios are run on a very tight budget, and you can ask about trading work as (clerical) support staff for classes and studio time.
posted by abirae at 8:31 AM on December 16, 2008

My ex-boyfriend spent his summer as an apprentice to a furniture designer. But he had to submit a portfolio and needed prior experience with power tools, and I don't think he was paid.

If you just want to learn, I would check out some place like The Steel Yard (much cheaper than taking a summer course at RISD, I'm sure), and then work part time to cover rent and food. You can live pretty cheaply in Providence, especially subletting during the summer. I'm the same basic idea would apply to other small cities and towns with industrial art studios.
posted by puffin at 8:56 AM on December 16, 2008

Best answer: While it sounds like you aren't really up for a true apprenticeship, I'd suggest discounting some of the condescension in this thread.

You are a college student, I assume in the US. Many people will understand that you are still trying to understand your place in the world, and that you aren't yet ready to commit to a lifelong occupation. Some of them will be willing to help introduce a newcomer to their craft, and will be happy just to have spread knowledge and appreciation for what they do, even if you leave at the end of the summer and never come back.

I'd suggest being realistic about what you can hope for. You will likely work for free, and much of what you will do is grunt work, but a good teacher will give you a chance to do something more. Then I'd suggest focusing on a few things that interest you most and setting out to learn more about them. Once you've acquired some background, approach some practitioners. Tell them you are curious about what they do, that you've been reading about it, and you wondered if you can buy them lunch and ask them some questions in person. Later, after that contact, if you are still interested, tell them what you are hoping to do over the summer, and ask if there is anyone they know who might be able to help you (don't ask them directly, if they'd like to help, they'll likely offer. If not, don't put them on the spot, they've already done you a favor by talking to you).

Be very honest about what you are looking for. Make it clear that at this point, you are just looking for something for this summer, and be clear about what that really entails (if you plan to take off for two weeks for a road trip, or if you only want to work 4 days a week, or if you don't get out of bed until noon, be up front about it). Be clear that you understand you'll have to do a lot of grunt work, but you'd like to come away from the experience with a better understanding of the craft. Be honest with yourself too. If there is a good chance that you'll grow bored in the middle and bail out, don't waste their time, or yours.
posted by Good Brain at 11:10 AM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I work with the unionized construction trades and they all have apprenticeship programs. If you're interested in any construction apprenticeship programs contract the local union office of an International Union and they should be able to help you (United Association for plumbers, International Brotherhood of Electircal Workers for Electricians, Bricklayers and Allied Crafter workers.... you get the idea)

Most of these are four year programs, so they're not really appropriate for a college student unless you plan to go to school at night...
posted by bananafish at 12:31 PM on December 16, 2008

Best answer: I don't know if this is what you're looking for but I hire photo assistants to help me on jobs which is basically a paid apprenticeship. You set up lights and grip stuff, unload and then pack equipment, etc. basically all the small details of a pro photo shoot so the photographer can focus on the subject and bigger picture.

Assisting is kind of a stepping stone to being a pro photographer, but I have used people who were students/casually interested before who just wanted to learn how things were done. I always get names and numbers of people who are trying to break into it and want to learn on a shoot or two for free to use on personal shoots or small jobs where there is no budget to hire a real assistant. It pays pretty decently ($150-300ish / day depending on what kind of job and your experience level), it's very hands on, and you will definitely get interesting stories out of it.
posted by bradbane at 12:39 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

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