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Student and master 

November 2018

A story about a craft that is enjoying great attention and has a strong customer base but also about a resulting educational dilemma!

The story deals with ceramics and is based on a conversation about learning a craft in depth and about the respective positions of student and master.

November 2019

The conversation took place in spring 2018 while I was working on my book HÅNDVÆRK (Craft, published in Danish). Below is an excerpt, the full text is included in the book.

In the book HÅNDVÆRK, Gurli Elbækgaard is featured as a master. She was born and raised in Tønder, in the south of Jutland, and trained as a ceramicist at Kunsthåndværkerskolen (School of Arts and Crafts, now Design School Kolding). Today, she lives and works in Copenhagen.

Gurli masters her craft at the potter’s wheel to perfection, and glaze is her passion. Her products have a recognizable expression, whether she works with serial productions of utilitarian ceramics or one-off pieces, and the dry, matt glazes are part of her signature style. In recent years, her practice has included tableware for a number of gourmet restaurants, a field that she is passionate about. Among Gurli Elbækgaard’s many accolades, the most recent include a travel grant from the Danish Arts Foundation in 2017 and Annie and Otto Detlef’s ceramics award in 2018 for her production of utilitarian ceramics and her innovative practice in the design and production of modern tableware.

In this context, Laura Hoff is a student. She was born and raised in Tisvildeleje in North Zealand and holds a bachelor’s degree in ceramic design from the Royal Danish Academy, Bornholm. Prior to her studies there, she attended the private school Aarhus Art Academy for three semesters.

Laura says, ‘Being accepted into the school on Bornholm was like passing through the needle’s eye – and it felt like coming home. I found my people. It was so rewarding for me to be part of the study environment and to share my interest in ceramics with others as well as sharing musical interests, meals and the premise of living on a remote island as part of an international student body.

When we met, she had recently returned from a month-long stay in the south of France. Her French boyfriend, whom she met on Bornholm, was working in a glassblowing studio there; they both stayed with the glassblower.
In France, Laura and her boyfriend bought an old camper van which they fixed up and drove home to Denmark.
This road trip was a trial run. Now, six months later, they are about to set out on a European tour, planning to spend an indefinite period as itinerant journeymen. They want to meet other artisans and makers and learn from them by helping out in their workshops. When their travels are over, they hope to have a better idea of where they want to settle down and establish a studio.

Before her trip to France, Laura was living with her parents in Tisvildeleje, working part-time as a waitress at a seaside restaurant and part-time as a trainee with Gurli Elbækgaard.

In addition to trainees, Gurli employs an older, experienced potter. ‘With all the orders that are coming in, I can’t possibly do it all myself. The large orders from the restaurants in particular require extra hands. My challenge is to make a long-term plan to secure the production. Within a few years, my potters will likely retire, and then what?’ Gurli wonders. ‘I would like to be able to hire trainees in my studio. No one learns the actually craft in the education programmes any longer, and without workshop experience, you don’t become a fully experienced potter. My dilemma is that if I have to pay an assistant to help out with the production, the set-up has to be efficient, also in the short term. If I had a trainee, who had their student aid or who was paid the lower trainee salary while learning the routines, I could afford to be patient, and I would have the time to give the trainee more technical challenges. I can see how much Laura has learned from throwing teapot spouts until she mastered the task to perfection. Even if she had to make twenty before she got it right, that was fine. This was only possible because she was an unpaid trainee; it would never work if I had to pay her an assistant’s salary.

She adds, 
I am happy for Laura that she is taking the time to learn her trade properly, not just in one workshop but in several. With all due respect for her formal training, it’s my impression that it has been self-tuition, with limited focus on the craft disciplines and very few requirements. Of course, the most talented and disciplined have possibilities in such a system, too. At Kunsthåndværkerskolen, we might be given an assignment on Monday afternoon to present 20 glaze samples by Tuesday morning. That was our homework, no ifs and or buts. As a result, when we graduated, we came away with a large archive.

Laura admits that it can be difficult to set the right level in a programme where most elements are up to the individual students’ own initiative and drive, and where craftsmanship is not the main priority. 

I conclude that for many years, practical skills and craftsmanship have received less focus and recognition than ‘conceptual’ work, and novel approaches and perspectives have been appreciated more than the mastery of techniques and material properties. At the risk of sounding reactionary, I do not see experimentation and knowledge of materials as each other’s opposites, but I do hope that the pendulum will soon swing towards more in-depth learning and better access to apprenticeships.

Artikelen “Elev og Mester” fra min bog HÅNDVÆRK handler om et kunsthåndværk som nyder stor opmærksomhed fra købelystne kunder, men også en historie om et affødt uddannelsesmæssigt dilemma!

Den handler om keramik og tager udgangspunkt i en samtale om at lære håndværket til bunds, og om at være respektive elev og mester.

Samtalen fandt sted i foråret 2018 i forbindelse med mit arbejde med bogen HÅNDVÆRK og er i sin fulde længde gengivet i bogen (på dansk)

Gurli Elbækgaard figurerer i bogen HÅNDVÆRK som mester. Hun er født og opvokset i Tønder og uddannet keramiker fra Kunsthåndværkerskolen (nu Designskolen Kolding) og bor og arbejder nu i København.

Gurli mestrer sit håndværk ved drejeskiven til perfektion, og glasur er hendes store passion. Hendes form er genkendelig, hvad enten hun arbejder med serieproduceret brugskeramik eller med unika, og de tørre, matte glasurer er hendes særkende. Hun har gennem de seneste år arbejdet med steldele til flere gourmetrestauranter, et arbejde hun er meget passioneret omkring. Gurli Elbækgaard er flere gange blevet prisbelønnet. Senest fik hun i 2017 et rejselegat fra Statens Kunstfond, og i 2018 fik hun Annie og Otto Detlefs’ keramikpris for sit arbejde med brugskeramik og for hendes nytænkning inden for design og fremstilling af moderne steldele.

Laura Hoff er i denne sammenhæng elv, hun er født og opvokset i Tisvildeleje. Hun er Bachelor i keramisk design fra KADK, Bornholm. Har forud gået tre semestre på den private skole Århus Kunstakademi.

Laura fortalte: “At komme ind på skolen på Bornholm var som at komme gennem et nåleøje og som at komme hjem. Jeg fandt min flok. Det var meget givende for mig at blive en del af studiemiljøet og at dele både interessen for keramikken, men også at dele musikinteresser, måltider og den fælles præmis at bo på en ø langt borte i en kreds af internationale studerende,”

Hun var netop kommet hjem fra en måned i Sydfrankrig da vi mødtes. Hendes franske kæreste, som hun mødte på Bornholm, blæste glas på et værksted dér, de boede hos kunsthåndværkeren, som ejer værkstedet.
I Frankrig investerede Laura og kæresten i en gammel autocamper, som de satte i stand og derefter kørte i til Danmark.
Turen var en forpremiere. Nu, et halvt år senere drog de afsted ned gennem Europa for at tilbringe en ikke nærmere defineret periode af deres liv som farende svende. De vil møde andre kunsthåndværkere og lære af dem ved at gå til hånde på deres værksteder. Når rejsen engang er tilendebragt, håber de på at være nærmere en afklaring af, hvor de skal slå sig ned og etablere værksted.

Inden turen boede Laura hos sine forældre i Tisvildeleje og delte sin tid mellem at arbejde som tjener på et badehotel og være i praktik hos Gurli Elbækgaard.

Gurli har foruden praktikanter også en ældre pottemager ansat. “Med den mængde ordrer, jeg tager ind nu, er det umuligt for mig at nå det hele selv. Navnlig de store ordrer til restauranterne kræver hjælp. Min udfordring er at fremtidssikre produktionen. Min ansatte pottemager skal formodentlig på pension inden for en årrække, og hvad så?” funderede Gurli og fortsatte: “Jeg kunne drømme om, at det blev muligt at ansætte elever på værkstedet. Der er ingen, der lærer håndværket på deres skole længere, og uden værkstedserfaring bliver man ikke fuldbefaren udi at dreje. Mit dilemma er, at hvis jeg skal betale en assistent for at hjælpe i produktionen, er det nødt til at være effektivt, også på den korte bane. Var der tale om et elevforhold, hvor eleven havde sin studiestøtte eller en elevløn at leve af, mens han/hun lærte rutinen, så havde jeg råd til at være mere tålmodig og dermed tid til give eleven flere faglige udfordringer. Jeg ser, hvor meget Laura har fået ud af at dreje tude til tekander, indtil hun kunne det til perfektion. Selvom hun drejede 20 styk, inden hun ramte plet, spillede det ingen rolle. Det kan kun lade sig gøre, fordi hun var i en ulønnet praktik, og det ville aldrig kunne gå, hvis hun skulle have haft en assistentløn.

Hun fortsætter
“Jeg er glad på Lauras vegne over, at hun giver sig tid til at lære sit fag grundigt at kende, ikke bare på et, men på flere værksteder. Al respekt for hendes uddannelse, men jeg har indtryk af, at den meget har været et selvstudie med kun lidt fokus på fagfaglige discipliner og med meget få krav. De dygtige og dem med høj disciplin har selvfølgelig muligheder også i det system. Da jeg gik på Kunsthåndværkerskolen, kunne vi mandag eftermiddag blive bedt om at stille tirsdag morgen med 20 glasurprøver, det var vores lektie, og der var ingen kære mor. Det betød, at vi efter endt uddannelse stod med et enormt materiale.”

Laura medgiver, at det kan være svært at lægge niveauet på en uddannelse, hvor det meste er op til eleven selv, og hvor håndværksmæssig træning ikke fylder mest.

Og jeg konkluderer, at I mange år har solide faglige færdigheder ikke været det, man præmierede. Det har været i højere kurs at arbejde “konceptuelt”, og man har fået mere anerkendelse for det skæve end for at kunne sit materiale og sin teknik til bunds. Med risiko for at lyde bagstræberisk; jeg ser ikke materialeforståelse og eksperimenter som hinandens modsætninger, men jeg håber dog, at pendulet snart svinger ud i retning af mere grundighed og adgang til mesterlære.


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