By APRIL DIODATO
OBSERVER Lifestyles Editor
Ron Nasca buzzes around Mudslingers, giving advice to his students, discussing the background of his studio and detailing the creation of ceramics at a dizzying pace. He does not stand still for more than half a moment.
OBSERVER Photo by April Diodato
‘Empty bowls’ at the Mudslingers pottery studio waiting to be taken home.
Nasca opened the Mudslingers studio at its current location in downtown Fredonia (beside the Eastside Grille) in 2005. The Fredonia native, now a Dunkirk resident, began teaching in Westfield at another studio before he started his own.
"The steel plant closed so I had to do something, and I started a second career teaching pottery," Nasca said.
Each time, he begins the first day of class by doing a demonstration on how to throw a bowl and then asks his new students, "Who doesn't think they can do this?" Nearly every hand is raised in response.
Empty Bowls 2010 Fundraiser
When: Saturday, Dec. 4, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: St. John's United Church of Christ, 733 Central Ave., Dunkirk
Cost: Bowls come in $10, $20 and $30 sizes; contributions go entirely to local food pantries
Why: Help feed the hungry - buy a one-of-a-kind ceramic bowl made by a local potter and get free soup served by 'For Your Pleasure" Caterers; live music
"By the end of the night, they have five or six done," Nasca said. "I prove them wrong again and again! I've been able to teach everybody who's come down here."
From police officers to teachers to artists new and old, amateur and professional, the potters at Mudslingers are more varied than the Village People. The exact number is unknown (when prompted, Nasca replied, "I have no idea and I don't want to know, because it would drive me crazy.") but they come from throughout Chautauqua County. On an evening in early November, many were gathered to create ceramics for the upcoming Empty Bowls fundraiser while others tended to individual projects.
The admittedly-shy Hide Sadohara said making pottery at Nasca's studio helped him become acquainted with his new town. Originally from Japan, Sadohara has taught ceramics at SUNY Fredonia for four years and discovered Mudslingers from a fellow college professor. Sadohara had worked for The Clay Studio, a nonprofit organization, in Philadelphia for eight years where they did fundraisers similar to Empty Bowls every few months to give back to the community.
"It's just really natural to me and it's fun, too," Sadohara said of creating ceramics. "Everywhere you go, virtually everywhere in the United States, you run into potters. Any potters' space becomes something of a community hub. You're learning a skill and at the same time, getting to know local people - it's the best way to socialize."
Sadohara worked on a bowl as he spoke.
"Naturally, I'm pretty socially awkward," he said with a laugh, "But with the clay, I can communicate easily with people because we speak the same language."
ONE BOWL AT A TIME
The Empty Bowls effort aims to help end hunger one bowl at a time. The annual event will be held Saturday, Dec. 4, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. John's United Church of Christ, 733 Central Ave. in Dunkirk.
At the fundraiser, people may pick out the one-of-a-kind ceramic bowl of their choice, make a tax-deductible contribution and then may enjoy free soup served in their new bowl. Pat and Sylvia Bailey of "For Your Pleasure" Caterers of Dunkirk will provide several soups comprised of ingredients donated by local gardeners and merchants. For those who prefer their soup less carnivorous, at least one soup will be vegetarian.
"We were running out of places to sit down last year," Nasca said, adding that there will be more table space added at this year's event. "It's a lot of fun."
After eating, meeting and greeting, the bowl is washed, wrapped and ready to take home to be kept or perhaps given as a gift. Bowls come in $10, $20 and $30 increments, and all donations go entirely to local food pantries.
Nasca estimated that about 450 of the Empty Bowls would come from the Mudslingers studio; about 700 total will be for sale on Dec. 4. The SUNY Fredonia ceramics faculty contributed to the effort as well as other potters working in their own studios. The local Empty Bowls effort is sponsored by the Fredonia Potters Co-Op.
"A whole bunch of people here have a generosity of spirit and want to take their skill namely, making a bowl on potters' wheel and make an income for people who are hungry," local Empty Bowls coordinator Marvin Bjurlin said as he worked at the wheel.
Empty Bowls is an international organization originally formed in 1990 by Michigan teachers and husband-and-wife team John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn. Their Empty Bowls effort has one stipulation: "Keep it local." The couple continues to maintain a website documenting the Empty Bowls phenomenon around the globe at www.emptybowls.net.
Locally, Empty Bowls has been held annually about 15 years ago, Bjurlin estimates. It started as smaller-scale effort on campus at SUNY Fredonia and evolved into an initiative that raises a significant amount of funds for the community's hungry. (Nasca would rather not divulge the exact numbers but the figure is impressive).
"From the get-go, throughout the entire history of ceramics, the bowl has been used for food," said Bjurlin, a former ceramics instructor. "Before a bowl, we had our hands."
For more information on the local Empty Bowls effort, contact coordinator Marvin Bjurlin at 672-9151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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