The Apprentice, Island-style
Historically, being an apprentice was a long and often pitiless business. Apprenticing Island style, however, bears no resemblance to the forced servitude of the Middle Ages or the egomaniacal exercises of the popular television series. In fact, the term "apprentice" does not fully describe what real-world learning brings to those who apprentice on Martha's Vineyard.
Today's apprentices benefit from a supportive environment. They get where they're going much faster than their forebears did, and use a variety of resources that often meld several crafts. Three Island craftsmen got their start at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School.
"I'm not really what you're defining as an apprentice," said blacksmith Jaime Rogers, 29, as she shaped red-hot metal rods into curtain rods at her Oak Bluffs shop.
"I spent some time with Barney Zeitz [a Tisbury metal and glass sculptor] and I learned a lot from him, particularly about tools and using them safely - valuable stuff - but my journey was different. I wanted silver-smithing, so I went to the Penland School in North Carolina for a couple of months for extended training in 2004, on the advice of Nan Bacon, an Island glass artist," she said.
At Penland, students with multiple interests learned to trade time to learn other disciplines, Ms. Rogers recalled. "A woman there was blacksmithing. I was immediately drawn to it, so we traded, teaching each other our specialties," she said, explaining her commitment to blacksmithing.
Limited by the town to blacksmithing between October and May, Ms. Rogers switches to silver-smithing during summer, creating jewelry for sale at the Artisan's Festival in West Tisbury.
Carpenter's apprentice Zoe Benjamin, 18, and custom watchmaker Rubin D. Cronig, 21, are two other graduates of the Charter School who credit its mentorship program for boosting them along their career paths.
Mr. Cronig explains: "No, it's not the classic apprentice concept of working for someone for four years, learning their skills. Apprenticing can last for several hours or weeks. It's more about contributing their skill to help you learn your own particular interest - which may not be theirs." Mr. Cronig is the proprietor of Rubin Douglas (rubindouglas.com), a watch-making company that features handmade customized watches that retail for $7,000 to $10,000.