It has been about 1 month since I arrived here in Gresham, WI to begin my apprenticeship. As you can imagine, moving from a situation where I was living alone in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest, out to a house in rural Wisconsin with a family of 4, might come with some significant changes in lifestyle.
Wisconsin has surprised me with its brand of natural beauty. The landscape is lush with both coniferous and deciduous forests, full of wonderful lakes and rivers, and covered with endless seas of farmland crops. Without any mountains to impede the horizon, the sky seems to go on forever. If you stand in a large, open area it feels like the sky actually dips underneath you. Clouds race by faster than I've ever seen before. Sunsets are long and firey. Rainstorms can come and go quicker than you can get all of your pots brought back inside the studio. The mornings bring a chorus of bird melodies, and at dusk the fireflies paint the atmosphere with their bio-luminescent butt brushes. It is a big change from the dramatic landscape of the Pacific Northwest, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it, but I can honestly say that I am pleasantly surprised by the beauty that I am finding out here in the Dairyland.
For my apprenticeship, I owe Simon 30 hours of work per week in exchange for materials, room and board, kiln space, a $100/week stipend, and his mentorship. So far, most of my work hours have been spent processing wood for future firings. Other jobs have included staining walls, weed-wacking, sanding pots, cutting and palleting firebrick, etsy listing, and web design. I am trying to find balance between chores and studio time just like I would be if I were a full-time potter. I'm managing some time for exploration as well.
Probably the most challenging part* about moving out here, which really hasn't been bad, has been adapting to living with another family. I am the first of Simon's apprentices to live under the same roof as he and his. The reason being that they (and I) will be moving to Illinois sometime in the near future, so finding a place to live for just a couple of months would have been extremely difficult. If you're accustomed to living on your own, and not having to worry about the schedules, bedtimes, etc. of anyone else, dovetailing into a family dynamic can take some getting used to. Ubering home in the middle of the night still drunk from a concert, and stumbling around the kitchen while trying to make a snack is not something one would feel particularly comfortable doing when living with a family of 4. Luckily there's not much of a night life out here, so it isn't a problem. Despite the tricky circumstances and elevated stress levels from the move, Simon and his family have made an effort to make me feel welcome and comfortable and I am grateful for it.
It is a strange feeling to be land-locked. My whole life I've lived within an hour or so of the ocean, and if I were any further than that, I was in the mountains. I find comfort in the mountains. Not having them around does sting a bit. As far as snowboarding season goes...I guess we'll just have to see about that. But it is all good. Life is about embracing these changes, leaning into them, stepping forward with grace, and finding the beauty in what is right in front of us, because it really is quite abundant.
I came here to learn what it takes to be a successful woodfire potter; to work closely alongside Simon in order to broaden my perspectives and grow as an artist, just as the 16 apprentices who came before me did. I am already being challenged both within the studio and otherwise. I'm observing closely the way Simon runs things, asking many questions, and taking many notes. After one month, I am feeling energized and excited for the rest to come.
*Edit: The most challenging part is loving their two cats, but also being allergic to them.