Lunch crowd quickly fills ‘Empty Bowls’ fundraiser

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The lunch line began forming almost as soon as Empty Bowls began Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne.

Soon the supply of 300 specially made ceramics bowls had been reduced by half, and lunchgoers kept arriving.

The Advanced Ceramics Class at IPFW presented the event as a networking opportunity and as a fundraiser, primarily for Community Harvest Food Bank. Art students and teachers from DeKalb and Huntington North high schools also created and donated bowls. Seth Green, the assistant professor of ceramics at IPFW, set the project in motion. The IPFW Ceramics Guild shared in the work and planning.

For a donation of $15, guests selected a ceramic bowl. They also enjoyed soup and bread donated by local restaurants. “We’re only an hour in to the sale and we’re probably going to sell out,” Green said.

Ceramics Guild President Kelly Grant said each bowl is unique. “It’s not machine-made,” she said. “People like to have a bowl that someone made. And it’s a fun thing to do. “No two [bowls] look the same, weigh the same, feel the same.”

Green, the assistant professor, said Empty Bowls is a national program. “Usually it’s a community of potters who get together and make bowls and they donate the proceeds from the sale of the bowls to charitable organizations. So in this case we’re donating 80 percent of the proceeds to Community Harvest Food Bank and 20 percent is going to the IPFW Ceramics Guild.

“It’s all about networking as an artist and as a professional. A friend and I were talking about the need to find a venue and he said ‘Why don’t you check out First Presbyterian Church? They’ve got a great hall.’ So I called and they said ‘Yes, absolutely, let’s do it.’ “

Eight of the most advanced ceramics students from DeKalb High School were in the lunch line early, accompanied by instructor Kelly Roth. “I teach Ceramics 1 all the way through 4, so this semester I have about 100 ceramics students,” Roth said. The group contributed 27 bowls. Roth had orders for 10 bowls to take back to DeKalb.

“From start to finish a bowl could take upward of about an hour when you throw it and make sure all the walls are nice and neat and thin,” she said. “Then you need to let it dry out for a day and then trim the bottom. So at the high school we just fired them to visque — which is the first firing. Then I delivered them to Seth, and his students took care of all the glazing.”

She also did some shopping. “I snagged a couple of Seth Green’s,” she said. “He’s a pretty noteworthy artist, so a bowl of his for $15 is a good deal.”

The bowls are food-safe, microwave-safe and are safe on the top rack of dishwashers, she said.

Grant and Ceramics Guild Vice President Allie Kruger worked to secure a $1,500 grant from the Purdue University Student Service Learning Grant Program. “That helped us pay for the food, the bowls, the paper goods, and advertising, and we had the bread donated by Panera Bread and the soup donated by Cosmo’s,” Grant said.

She said throwing a bowl on a pottery wheel takes about 15 minutes. “But then you have to wait for it to dry, you have to turn it over and trim the bottom, and you have to glaze it and fire it and trim it again,” she said. “So in the long haul it takes a while. We even have bowl parties where we just make a bunch of bowls and then fire them all at once.”

Grant, who will be a fifth-year IPFW student next year, said she will spend the entire year producing ceramics for her end-of-year fine arts degree show.

She got her start in ceramics at Carroll High School. “In the 10th grade I took ceramics and I just fell in love with it,” she said. “You grow up drawing and coloring and then you don’t get introduced to something like wheel-throwing until you get that opportunity. They have a great art program there.”

Green said he would not rule out buying a bowl for himself. “But I want to allow the community to come and have first dibs on the bowls,” he said. Besides, he said, he has a few bowls at home.

He said the event had a purpose beyond making bowls, and even beyond funding worthy causes. Students need to know how to survive in a contracting arts world. “This is one of the main reasons I’m doing this event is because it is difficult to get a job and the community in which an artist lives is going to be what supports that artist,” he said. “So one of the things that I want to instill in my students is the importance of rubbing shoulders with good community partners and making connections, and networking.”

They networked in earnest, serving food, wrapping bowls, offering chances on deluxe bowls, and answering questions. The guests included church members, downtown office and medical workers, and the curious diners and shoppers.

Jason Morris of Fort Wayne took his time selecting a take-home bowl from the tables of green, blue and white bowls, some wider, some deeper. “There are so many colors, too many choices,” he said.