Twenty-two local potters, both amateur and professional, known as the Fredonia Potters' Co-op are busily crafting about 850 unique bowls for this year's local version of the Empty Bowls project. The event will be held on Dec. 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Hedwig's Social Center (of Blessed Mary Angela Parish) at 324 Townsend St. in Dunkirk.
For people who aren't familiar with the annual event, those who attend make tax-deductible contributions, select bowls they like in sizes that correspond to a $10, $20, or $30 contribution, and are served simple meals of soup in them. What is special about this event is that all the materials and time to create the bowls are donated by the potters. Because of this, all the proceeds are donated to local food pantries.
The bowls themselves are unique and would be reasonably priced, even without the addition of the meal. A number of potters involved in the local effort create the one-of-a-kind bowls at Mudslingers, Ron Nasca's studio/shop, at 18 Water St. in Fredonia. Other potters work in their own studios to make the bowls they donate to the event. In addition, the faculty who teach ceramics at SUNY Fredonia will be contributing to the effort. All bowls are donated anonymously, so they are unsigned. Instead, each is imprinted with the "Empty Bowls" logo.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
Ted Lee, a biology professor at SUNY Fredonia, works on the potter’s wheel centering the clay. Lee has been teaching at the college since 1999.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
Kathy Gullo begins to fashion a bowl by rolling out clay. This technique, sometimes called the slab building, does not use a potter’s wheel.
During a recent visit to Mudslingers, a number of potters were working on bowls for the event. Although the process can look intimidating, Nasca and the event's coordinator, Marv Bjurlin, who taught ceramics at SUNY Fredonia until his retirement, both maintained that anyone can be taught to create a bowl.
What is fascinating about the process of creation is the number of factors which allow for variation. Nasca pointed out the places in the process where choices can be made. First is the choice of clay. Different clays have different properties, including color. Nasca even pointed out bowls which combined clays. He had some finished bowls that used a gray clay as a base, with a very thin layer of red clay on top. This created an effect somewhat like a marble cake.
While most people think of the potter's wheel as necessary to create bowls, this is not the case. Kathy Gullo was rolling out clay with a rolling pin, producing slabs of clay to hand build her bowls. She shaped a slab around a form to create a bowl.
Those using a potter's wheel often flare the edge of the bowl outward. In contrast, Bjurlin brought the edge of the bowl he created in a bit.
Before firing, some potters decorate by producing patterns on a bowl. Bjurlin made a pattern of lines. Gullo stamped her bowl. Others leave the bowl smooth.
Nasca explained that the way the bowls are fired makes a difference to the texture. He said some of the bowls would be done by wood firing while others would be soda fired.
Finally the way the bowl is glazed makes a difference to the overall appearance. Glazes come in a variety of colors, and are often applied in combinations of colors. Nasca hastened to explain that all glazes used are food safe.
The Empty Bowls event has grown in the local area over the years. Because of the growth, the organizers decided to move from St. John's United Church of Christ on Central Avenue to the St. Hedwig's center which has more room. Bjurlin said, "St. John's did a wonderful job for many years, and we thank them."
Bjurlin was serious about the purpose of the event, saying, "About one in six people struggle with hunger, and we hope the bowls and the logo stamped on them remind people of this. ... Bowls have an integral connection with food."
He was also proud of the yearly event saying, "The success of the effort is phenomenal for our area."
Despite the serious nature of hunger, Bjurlin pointed out, "The event is a lively happy family friendly event." Local musician Tom Gestwicki will organize the entertainment during the event. Soups will be created by students from the Culinary Arts program at BOCES, using ingredients donated by area gardeners and merchants. There will be at least one soup that is vegetarian.
"Empty Bowls" calls itself "an international grassroots effort to fight hunger." Currently based in North Carolina, the organization was created by John Hartom and his wife Lisa Blackburn in 1990 when they lived and taught in Michigan. Hartom was a student of Bjurlin. The organization currently maintains a website, www.emptybowls.com that lists the local events around the country. All the events keep the proceeds locally.
The local effort has its own Facebook page. In addition, questions concerning the fundraiser may be directed to Bjurlin at 672-9151 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Nasca at Mudslingers at 672-7866.
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