Fundraiser will help feed those in need


Many hand-made ceramic bowls have already been created, and many more will be needed for the 2019 Empty Bowls fundraiser that will be held in Marquette Friday, March 15. Proceeds from the event support organizations that provide food to area residents in need. (Katherine Larson photo)


By Katherine Larson
Food insecurity—the lack of reliable access to food—plagues nearly one out of seven people in Marquette County, according to 2016 data from Feeding America. For Marquette County children, the rate is even higher: nearly one in six. That’s nearly 9,000 people, almost 2,000 of them children, who aren’t always sure where their next meal is coming from. And fully a third of these children are not even eligible for federal nutrition assistance.
Several area organizations try to help, and an eager group of area artists partners with them to lend a hand.
The artists are members of NMU’s Ceramics Collective and the members of the community with whom they work to create the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, this year scheduled for Friday, March 15, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Marquette Alternative High School, 1175 Erie Street. All are invited and welcome to arrive whenever is convenient within that time span.
Empty Bowls will offer an array of hundreds of handmade pottery bowls, all glazed and functional and dishwasher-safe. Visitors pick a bowl, fill it with a hearty soup, enjoy the soup with bread, then bring their bowl home to keep. The cost is $8 for children, $10 for students, and $15 for general admission. In addition, visitors are encouraged to bid on items available through a silent auction. All proceeds will go to local organizations that help Marquette County people in need.
The beneficiaries are chosen each year by two of the groups involved in Empty Bowls. Students from NMU’s Marquette Ending Hunger group vote on one, and students from Marquette Alternative High School vote on the other.
Joy Bender Hadley, who teaches art at the high school, said that interested students research organizations and make presentations on them to the whole student body for the vote. This year, they voted to donate Empty Bowls proceeds to the Women Center’s Harbor House. Harbor House, the only emergency shelter in Marquette and Alger counties for survivors and children fleeing abusive homes, numbers many food-insecure people among those seeking its help.
Morgan Zoeller of Marquette Ending Hunger said that her student group similarly votes on a beneficiary. This year, they chose Cat Packs “because we have not donated to them in recent years and like to spread out the donations to different community organizations each year. Additionally, many Northern students help to pack the lunches and organize volunteers so we felt like it was a nice fit between NMU and the community.” Cat Packs provides packages of food for food-insecure children to take home on Fridays so they can eat over the weekend.
But first, all those hundreds of bowls have to be made.
Niikah Hatfield and Erin Scott of the Ceramics Collective explained that they come from many sources. Hatfield said, “Our ceramics students make bowls. We also host two community Throw-A-Thons, where people can come to the NMU ceramics studio and throw bowls on the 20 pottery wheels we have here. We offer a bowl hand-building workshop through NMU Student Services. And, of course, we visit Marquette Alternative High School and work with the students to hand-build bowls there.” According to Hadley, about 100 of the high school’s 130 students choose to make bowls in these workshops.
There’s a lot involved in the process. First, the clay has to be made; the Ceramics Collective students do that. Then, after the various participants mold the clay, the bowls have to be dried and then bisque-fired. Next comes glazing, using food-safe glazes, and finally all the glazed bowls are kiln-fired. The Ceramics Collective does the bisque-firing, glazing, and kiln-firing as well.
Scott said, “It’s a really motivating thing in the studio, with all these bowls to make. We’re always up against deadlines but somehow we always get it done … It’s an amazing experience for an undergraduate to have.”
Scott transferred to NMU from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where “undergraduates were not even allowed to go into the kiln room. Here, we run the whole thing. This is one of the most liberating ceramics programs I’ve ever seen.”
Hatfield concurred, saying, “NMU’s ceramics program is one of the best in the whole country. The facilities are amazing, but even more important Prof. Brian Kakas has created a hugely empowering program.”
Hadley said that the idea for Empty Bowls events like this one originally came from an arts educator in Battle Creek who felt passionately that artists should help work for societal change. 2019 marks her 15th year of Empty Bowls in Marquette, with NMU’s Ceramics Collective stepping in as very welcome partners about five years ago.
Scott and Hatfield are grateful for the opportunity. Scott, who usually works as a sculptural artist, said, “It’s nice to make something that will go out into the world and live in someone’s house. As I make bowls, I love to think that someone will be eating from them. But my favorite part of Empty Bowls is the Throw-A-Thons and the bowl-making workshops, helping people learn about ceramics.”
For Hatfield, the idea of connecting her art with food is central to her approach to ceramics. She said, “Ceramics pots and vessels have been around forever, as humans needed vessels to hold food, to store food, to carry food, to cook food in, to eat food from. All cultures have food-related vessels, and they’re often ceramic. I love to celebrate food through vessels, and to make vessels that celebrate food.”
Hatfield, who farms at Seeds and Spores Family Farm, pointed out that with ceramic bowls “you use the same material, earth, that grew the food that you’re eating in the bowl. It’s all connected.”
It was a ceramic mug in the farmhouse that first sparked Hatfield’s joy. “I started to make pottery to give others that same joy. Now, as an artist at NMU, I’m exploring ceramics beyond that. But for the Empty Bowls event I get to use my functional skills. Someone needs food, and someone needs a bowl. It brings me back to why I started.”
Art teacher Hadley said that building a connection between these NMU artists and her high school students was “a real bonus,” but it’s clear that the bonus goes both ways. Scott spoke admiringly of one high school student who has participated in the workshops for three successive years and then “ended up leading the demonstrations. It’s great to see high school students step up and take leadership.”
Scott herself “really enjoy[s] working with high school students. They’re living in a fast-paced world of cheaply made objects, often throwaway. Here, instead, we feel the clay, make the bowl, and a couple of months later see the finished product. This process of taking a lump and pinching it into a pot connects to a really primal process has been going on for thousands of years, and we get to connect to that ancient process in our own place and time.”
Ceramics and food have always gone hand in hand, the NMU women agreed, and they all appreciate the combination of the two that Empty Bowls provides. Scott appreciates “working through food and eating into the artistic world.”
Hatfield strives to “celebrate eating and functionality.” And Zoeller keeps a handmade “bowl sitting on my table, a constant reminder that food insecurity exists and there’s something I can and should do about it.”
Besides locally-made bowls and the soup and bread (generously donated by area businesses), the Empty Bowls event will offer fine ceramic art available for silent auction, along with various auction baskets and other donated items. Musicians will perform, and information tables will be staffed by other area organizations that work to help people at risk.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.