The 2015 Leavenworth Empty Bowls Festival is under way! Diane Priebe was kind enough to share some history, statistics, and the latest news for everyone who supports this wonderful cause. If you would like to get involved, there’s still time. Not only does the project help feed the hungry, it supports local arts, our community, and our families.

IMG_5136Tell us a little about how Empty Bowls came into being. History, people, concept.

Empty Bowls is an international grassroots effort to end hunger.  It was originally started by a high school art teacher in Michigan in 1990.  Inspired by the concept, community groups across the United States and other countries have expanded the effort.  The basic premise is simple: Potters and other craftspeople work with the community to create handcrafted bowls. Community members exercise their creativity by purchasing and decorating bowls at community glazing days.  The bowls are later fired, and are picked up at the community soup supper, where guests are invited to a simple meal of soup and bread.  Guests keep their bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world. The money raised is donated to an organization working to end hunger and food insecurity, which in our case is the Community Cupboard food bank in Leavenworth, WA.

The Leavenworth Empty Bowls Festival started in 1996, with about 150 people participating.  Back then, most bowls were decorated by artists from Village Art in the Park, and ticket holders selected a bowl they liked once they arrived at the soup supper.  Pottery artist Nancy Petersen, who co-founded our local event with her potter husband Jeff Hilton, pushed for participants to decorate their own bowl.  She observed that children have many opportunities for artistic expression in the schools, but adults generally don’t have a forum to create art.  People were hesitant at first, but the event has evolved to where today almost all 700 participants decorate their own bowl.  But one can also purchase a ticket and select a bowl decorated by someone else.

IMG_5125In addition to the community-decorated bowls, local artists paint additional bowls, which are auctioned off in the days prior to the event.  The entire Empty Bowls event is volunteer-run, from the potters who make and fire the bowls, to the artists decorating the auction bowls, to the soups for the evening which are donated by local businesses.  In addition, a small army of volunteers works behind the scenes to help in every step of the way. Tickets to the soup supper are sold at the Glazing Days event in January.  For 2015 the tickets have sold out!

The Community Cupboard food bank uses the Empty Bowls proceeds to purchase food, and up until recently this fundraiser made up almost the entire annual food budget for the Cupboard.  The Empty Bowls Committee is grateful that local Leavenworth businesses have started their own annual “Thursgiving” fundraiser for the Community Cupboard where businesses donate part or all of their proceeds for one night in November to the Community Cupboard.  This wonderful donation also provides substantial funds to purchase food.  We live in a generous community!

Empty Bowls also awards $1000 each year for small community art grants that benefit youth.  Last year several small grants were awarded that funded projects such as Avra Kedavra Book and Art Camp, the Cascade School District drama program, light bulb replacement for the Cascade High School stage, Mountain Sprouts “music fence” outdoor music area, and a Seattle art and drama expedition for Cascade students.  There is an incredible amount of creative arts education that is going on in this valley that Empty Bowls is delighted to help support.

How do you handle all of those bowls? (where do they come from, how do they get fired, what’s the process, etc.)?

Organized by Dawn Kranz, a team of local potters throw soup bowls which are then fired.  The white clay provides a nice canvas upon which community participants can create by decorating their own bowls.  The glazing committee has several dozen colors of glaze img_9187available, making it possible to create just about any design.  Empty Bowls volunteers provide tips to the participants, and books with ideas are available at the event.  After the bowls are decorated, the potters dip the bowls into a clear glaze then fire them again to create a food-safe finish.  Sometimes, if applied too thickly, the glazes flake off during firing in which case Dawn Kranz or Terry Porlier touch up the colors and fire the bowls again.

Each year over 700 bowls are needed to meet the local demand.  In addition to Dawn, this year’s potters included Dawn Kranz, Terry Porlier, Phil Yenney, Mijanou Fortney, Terry Johnson, John Riley, Sabrina Brakensiek, Margareta Dilley, Barry Crutchfield, and Shannon Hafermann.

We also have to sort all those bowls.  The Empty Bowls Committee meets on a Sunday afternoon at the fire hall to sort all the bowls by number and whether they are for the first or second seating.  The bowls are then repacked in order to make it easy to organize them on the day of the soup supper.

How does the Community Cupboard benefit from Empty Bowls?

For many years Empty Bowls has been the primary source of revenue for purchasing food for the Community Cupboard food bank, raising about $11,000 per year.  While food donations are the mainstay of the Community Cupboard, having a budget for purchasing food enables the food bank to purchase high quality foods such as protein sources and Veggie Vouchers for the Leavenworth Farmers’ Market.  The purchased food supplements the dried and canned foods. Since 2009 the number of local families requesting food assistance has increased by over 80%.  Other ways the food bank assists local families are with rent, utility costs, transportation, fuel and emergency lodging.

Since the start of the recession, demands on the Community Cupboard have been on the rise.  For example, in 2009 the Community Cupboard provided food to 475 individuals per month.  This figure has risen incrementally to where, in 2014, the Cupboard served 809 individuals per month.  That represents a 40% increase in demand in just four years.  Similarly, the number of food boxes distributed in 2009 was 2,054 which increased to 3,482 boxes by 2014.

Can you tell us a little about the artists involved in the auction?

IMG_5154A significant part of the Empty Bowls Festival is the Artist Bowls Auction and this year twenty-one local artists donated their talents towards this cause. The artist bowl auction accounts for over one third of the revenue raised by the Empty Bowls Event. Local artists love the camaraderie of decorating bowls together for a good cause.  Most artists either decorate a porcelain or ceramic serving bowl thrown by Terry Porlier or Dawn Kranz.  The artists are accustomed to painting on paper or a canvas and find that decorating a ceramic bowl with ceramic paints presents unique challenges to achieving the desired effect.  Their bowls often evoke familiar North Central Washington images such as native plants, wildlife, and scenery.   For example, Catey Luna’s painting of a hummingbird surrounded by flowers fills your imagination with images of its signature long tongue extracting nectar from a flower.  Other artists craft bowls using other media.  For example, Terry Zimmerman donated a hand etched glass bowl and Scot Brower turned a wood bowl made of Madrone.

This year, the artist bowls will be on display in store windows in downtown Leavenworth starting March 5.  They will be on display at Ganz Klasse, Der Sportsmann, Simply Found, and Inside & Out.  The bowls can also be seen online starting in March at

How does the Artist Bowl Auction work?

We are actually having two auction formats this year.  The Artist Bowls Auction will run on-line beginning at 8:00 a.m. on March 5 and concluding on March 18 at 8:00 p.m.  All twenty one of our artist bowls will be auctioned during that period including a painted bowl by Governor Jay Inslee. You can view the artist bowls and their descriptions by going to the Upper Valley MEND (Meeting Each Need with Dignity) website at and selecting Events, Empty Bowls Festival, and Artist Bowls Gallery.  They will also have a link there to the auction site BiddingOwl.  The bidding will start at $20, and the bid increment is also $20.  Each bowl will also include two tickets to the community supper event.  Funds raised by the auction represent roughly half of the proceeds brought in by Empty Bowls.  The high bidders have the satisfaction of donating to a worthy cause and receiving a beautiful keepsake piece of local art in the form of a bowl.

KOHO Radio 101.1 FM’s morning show will broadcast interviews about the online auction with Bob Mark, Program Manager of the Community Cupboard, artist Gro Buer, potter Terry Porlier and restaurant owners.  These will air on March 5 at 8:20 a.m. and March 17 and 18 at 8:00 a.m.

And, just in case Empty Bowls fans miss the friendly repartee of a live auction, one smaller decorated bowl will be auctioned live at each of the community supper sessions on March 19th.  In addition, another 4 decorated bowls will be raffled off during the supper sessions.

What can our readers do to further get involved with Empty Bowls?

  • Join us by listening in on KOHO Radio on March 5 at 8:20 a.m. and March 17 and 18 at 8:00 a.m.
  • Readers might consider making a tax deductible contribution to Empty Bowls to help defray our expenses.  We have a “donate now” feature on the website.  Or bid on a beautiful artist bowl.
  • And, last but not least, the Empty Bowls Committee is always on the lookout for new volunteers!  The Committee takes care of all the behind-the-scene activities necessary to host this successful annual event.  There is something for everybody from serving soup, to throwing bowls, to staffing the glazing days event, to helping with publicity.  Our group works well together and enjoys serving the community in this way.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Empty Bowls is about feeding the hungry.  Diners enjoy a simple supper of soup and bread at Cascade High School and go away with their very own empty bowl that serves as an ongoing reminder of hunger in our world.  If diners go away a bit hungry this is part of that reminder as well.

Empty Bowls is about family and community.  People love coming together to decorate bowls and joining together to eat a simple meal with friends and neighbors.  Through the generosity of local restaurants, bakeries, and others the event furnishes a donated community meal.

And Empty Bowls is about the arts.  Without the talented potters and artists Empty Bowls would not happen.  And to foster the arts in our community, $1,000 of the proceeds is used to support small community art grants for programs that benefit youth.

Thanks Leavenworth for your enthusiasm and support of Empty Bowls!