Empty Bowls

Empty Bowls, Full of Heart


Writer Sue Kern-Fleischer

It’s an international effort to fight hunger, but locally, it has been one of the largest fundraisers for the Foothills Food Bank and Resource Center, raising thousands of dollars over the past 15 years. This year, the 16th annual Foothills Empty Bowls Project Lunch will take place at a new venue, Harold’s Cave Creek Corral, 6895 E. Cave Creek Rd., in Cave Creek, on October 21 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

As in previous years, a large and diverse selection of hand-crafted ceramic and glass bowls will be available for a requested donation of $15. Patrons can choose an original, artist-crafted bowl, dine on pasta provided by Harold’s Corral and bid on the artwork offered by members of the Sonoran Arts League in the silent auction. Credit cards are accepted.

Also new this year, ice water will be available in giant coolers. Guests are encouraged to bring their own sports bottles to eliminate plastic water bottle waste in the local landfill.

The Foothills Empty Bowls Project began 16 years ago with only 850 bowls. Today, thanks to the efforts of local artists and students, more than 2,000 bowls will be available to generate much needed funds for the Foothills Food Bank and Resource Center, which assists families who reside in Anthem, New River, Desert Hills, Carefree, Cave Creek and other North Valley areas.

Pam DiPietro, the food bank’s executive director, says the need for services has increased nearly 10 percent since a year ago. And, looking back eight years, the demand has increased significantly.
“In the month of January 2008, the Foothills Food Bank served 74 families with 3,862 pounds of food,” she says. “By comparison, this past June, we gave 625 families 74,231 pounds of food. We also are in need of monetary donations, which we use to pay people’s rent, utility, medical, car repair and other bills.”

Glass artist and Empty Bowls chair Carole Perry is credited with bringing the popular event to the Desert Foothills. The Empty Bowls Project, an international effort to fight hunger, was started in the fall of 1990 by two potters in Michigan to help raise money for a Thanksgiving fund drive for a local food bank. Since then, the idea has spread around the world.

Throughout the year, Perry invites groups to her Laughing Glass Studio in Cave Creek to make glass bowls.

“Kathi Price and Sandy Frederiksen are fabulous new contributors to our selection of glass bowls during the event,” Perry says. “More than 300 glass bowls will be available at this year’s Empty Bowls lunch.”

Sonoran Arts League potters Pat and Mike Markham made bowls, as well as provided several other League potters with glazes and kiln space. Additional artists who created bowls include Daphne Azzi, David Bradley, Sylvia Fugmann-Brongo, Vickie Morrow, Robin Ray, Genie Swanstrom, Paula Weiss, Mishy Katz and friends at Desert Dragon Pottery.

This is the first year that longtime League member, Jim Bruce, is contributing ceramic bowls to the event. Bruce, a former attorney and Cave Creek councilman, and his wife, acclaimed painter Judy Bruce, have been Empty Bowls event volunteers for many years.

“Judy got me a hobby so I wouldn’t keep interrupting her painting,” Bruce jokes.

With no art training — not even in high school — Bruce began making cement animal figures eight years ago. Judy had been a longtime Hidden in the Hills studio tour host, and so many people who visited their home commented on his work, he decided to join Hidden in the Hills the following year. The couple will exhibit their original pieces of work during this year’s tour at studio 44.

Working with cement was “fun and strange,” but lugging around 80-pound bags soon took its toll on his back. When he learned that an artist wanted to sell all of the contents of her ceramic studio, he seized the opportunity to expand his skills.

A few months ago, he enlisted the help of Don Asakawa, who Bruce described as an excellent teacher with a lot of patience.

“He’s very methodical and process-oriented,” Bruce says. “He never wastes a piece of clay.”

One of the first things Asakawa taught him was how to center the clay on the wheel to make the perfect round pot.

“With cement, you can be as rough as you want and force the shape, so it took me some time to get used to throwing and lifting the pot up,” Bruce says. “Once you get it to a perfect round pot, you can make it into any shape — the clay will follow your direction.”

Like any new artist, Bruce has learned from his mistakes.

“When I fired my first load, I overfired the first batch,” he says. But the challenge has been worth it, especially since he knows he is contributing to a good cause.

Bruce is planning to contribute 50 bowls of different sizes and shapes to this year’s Empty Bowls event.

“Some of that is deliberate, and some of that is pure darn error,” he says, laughing.


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