"Empty Bowls" Project Brings Art, Aid to the Community | Liberal Arts

Southern Illinois University



"Empty Bowls" Project Brings Art, Aid to the Community

May 04, 2016

${image-alt} Ceramics students use art they create for fundraisers, sometimes to pay for materials or to bring in guest artists. In the case of the Empty Bowls project, though, students raised more than $5,000 to benefit Good Samaritan House. (Photo provided)

There was a 100 soup bowl challenge. The winner was, well, everybody involved.

Pattie Chalmers, associate professor of ceramics and director of undergraduate studies for the School of Art and Design, has made it part of her teaching philosophy for student artists to interact with and contribute to the community. Empty Bowls was a win-win-win opportunity.

The “empty bowls” concept, Chalmers says, has a long folk history with ceramics artists. The idea is to sell handmade bowls, typically with soup or other food, and for the food preparers and bowl makers to donate the proceeds to a charity. Last year, Chalmers asked ceramics students to do this for the Good Samaritan House in Carbondale. The Neighborhood Co-op in the Murdale Shopping Center (Carbondale) agreed to donate soup.

This year, Chalmers asked her students to participate in Empty Bowls again. She asked students in the Southern Clayworks Registered Student Organization and in her ceramics classes to make 20 bowls each. And then a graduate student upped the stakes by issuing a 100 bowl challenge.

“It’s a lot of bowls,” Chalmers admits. But a side benefit to such large production is learning handmade large production. Also, it provides students with plenty of bowl-making practice.

Chalmers explains that a project like Empty Bowls has several immediate benefits: artists get their individual work out in front of a buying audience; the public becomes more aware that handmade, functional art is available in the area; and the artists support a community organization.

Community, she says, is important for ceramics artists – maybe more so than for artists in many other media.

“Clay is very demanding,” she says. “It’s a thief, it takes all your time. But it also builds community. The wood kiln takes a group effort. You can do it by yourself, but it’s an art form that lends itself to community, and to many clay artists, that’s part of the attraction.”

Stephanie Dukat, a master of fine arts student from Buffalo, N.Y. specializing in ceramics, notes that in the undergraduate classes she teaches, the students behave like a community.

“They aren’t listening to their headphones, they are talking to each other,” she says.

Chalmers says ceramics is enjoying something of a heyday in the art world. More people appreciate something handmade, and look for local artists.

“There is something about handmade objects,” she says. “I have coffee cups from people I know in ceramics, and when I use them, I think about the people who made them. And there is something about pottery, a tradition and a sense of using resources wisely.”

Dukat says handcrafting is part of her family tradition. Her father is a carpenter, her mother quilts and her grandmother is good with crafts generally. For her, the ideas of making by hand and community go together quite naturally.

Ceramics students and Southern Clayworks continue to seek opportunities to present their work to the community. They’ve participated in a Carbondale farmers’ market and in special events for area businesses, including the Neighborhood Co-op anniversary and Oktoberfest at Scratch Brewery in Ava. For the Oktoberfest event, Dukat and fellow student Robert Lorenz made 100 beer steins each for the event. “”It was amazing to see 200 people carrying around handmade objects,” Dukat said. “I think this is a great example of a local business and the community utilizing creative and skilled artists in the area.”

As for the Empty Bowls event at the Neighborhood Co-op, the student and faculty bowl-makers raised $5,270 for Good Samaritan House – more than doubling last year’s total.