Apprenticeship at Moravian Pottery & Tileworks

In 2009, I took a three-day workshop at Moravian Pottery and Tileworks (MPTW) and later wrote a blog about it here. I first learned about MPTW way back in 1999, when I worked for tile artist, Debby Hagar, in Knoxville, TN, a former apprentice of MPTW, and loved every minute. Earlier this year, I decided to finally apply for one of the three apprenticeships available this fall. Fortunately, I was accepted and I just finished my first week.  On day 1, the director, Adam Zayas, gave the apprentices a historical overview and tour of the Tileworks. We also got a tour of Fonthill Castle, the former home of Henry Mercer. Activities for the apprentices in the first week included pressing reproductions of Mercer’s tile designs, making molds, cutting mosaics, unloading/loading kilns and glazing tiles by handpainting or dipping. The most physical tasks were mixing, sieving and packing 84 bags of clay. Incredibly, the pugging machine and the wooden/rope dumbwaiter to lower the bags into the cellar were both original to the over-100-year-old factory and only the power source (electric vs. steam) has been upgraded. While we worked alongside the full-time production staff, groups of visitors wandered through on tours of the pottery to see the work and ask questions.

For the first time, I finally got to visit the Mercer Museum, whose website states was built to house Henry Mercer’s extensive collection of objects representing everyday life in the pre-industrial age. In a world where we shop online or hop in our cars and go to stores to buy things imported from around the world, it’s easy to forget (or perhaps never know) how life used to be. It’s hard to imagine that the average family used to make from scratch just about everything they used on a daily basis. Wealthier people bought products from local craftspeople and merchants who made things using simple tools that were also hand built. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not romanticizing that kind of life as I’m sure it was difficult. However, it was impressive to see that much human ingenuity in one place.

If you’re really interested in Mercer’s tile installations and like to do research, there is even a library at the Museum where all of his papers and records are kept on microfiche. You can check a list of towns throughout the US to see if Mercer sold to a customer in your hometown and perhaps go visit it or meet the current owners.

So overall, it was a great first week for me! This apprenticeship is a 10-week program so I hope to repost about my experience but no promises, as I will definitely be busy!


3 Responses to “Apprenticeship at Moravian Pottery & Tileworks”

  1. Louise September 19, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    Proud of you! Congrats!

  2. Ronnie September 25, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    Yes, congrats. Post some pictures! I know MPTW from visiting, it’s hard to believe such a place exists.

  3. Theresa September 29, 2015 at 2:12 am #

    I’m not the best photographer but will try to get some shots up here. Thanks for your comment!

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