Icicle TV had the opportunity to speak with Lisa Therrell of the Upper Valley MEND about the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, one of the community’s favorite fundraising events that benefits the Community Cupboard food bank in Leavenworth.  Bowl decorating occurred in January and the Soup Supper will be held on March 20th.

Empty Bowls auction artist Janet Millard adds careful detail to her bowl.

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

Empty Bowls is an international grassroots effort to end hunger. Empty Bowls 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. Guests are invited to a simple meal of soup and bread. Guests keep a 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.

Greta Broom enjoys decorating a bowl with her mother Gabrielle SniderThe 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. Tickets are sold at the Glazing Days event in January. For 2014 the tickets have sold out.

The Community Cupboard food bank uses the donated money to purchase food, and up until recently this fundraiser made up almost the entire food budget for the Cupboard. The Empty Bowls Committee is grateful that PAVZ and Café Verona have started their own annual fundraiser for the Community Cupboard which also provides substantial funds. We live in a generous community!

Empty Bowls also awards small community art grants that benefit youth. Last year several small grants were awarded that funded projects such as arts education in the Beaver Valley School and cordless microphones for the Cascade High School drama program.

How do you handle all of those bowls? (where do they come from, how do they get fired, tell us about the process)

Organized by Dawn Kranz, a team of local potters throws soup bowls which are then fired. The white clay provides a nice canvas upon which participants decorate their own bowls. The glazing committee has several dozen colors of paint available making it possible to create just about any design. The committee will 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 Terry Porlier, Phil Yenney, Mijanou Fortney, Scott Dillman, and Mike Caemmerer.

We also have to sort all those bowls. The Empty Bowls Committee meets on a Sunday afternoon at the firehall 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.

Dawn Kranz hopes to recruit additional potters for next year. A number of our potters have moved away or had injuries that have prevented them from throwing bowls. Dawn personally threw over 300 bowls this year! Throwing 50-100 bowls per potter is a more sustainable number that the Empty Bowls Committee is hoping to achieve next year.

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 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 2013, the Cupboard served 798 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 3,294 boxes by 2013.

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

Jay Inlee original photo 400

An exciting component of the Leavenworth Empty Bowls Festival is the artist bowl auction. 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. Some artists craft bowls using other media. For example, Terry Zimmerman donated an etched glass bowl with graceful branches. Scot Brower turned a wood bowl made of Madrone. Sometimes a potter will throw their own bowl, such as Phil Yenney’s “Forest from Above”.

We all had a big surprise a few weeks ago. We had a very unexpected bowl artist join the mix. Governor Jay Inslee! It was Empty Bowls artist Harriet Bullitt’s idea. She called Bonnie Yenney (wife of artist Phil Yenney) who happens to be Jay Inslee’s sister-in-law. One thing led to another and Phil found himself up in the wee hours helping coach the Governor on his bowl design. The Governor’s Five Crows bowl, with its striking stylized design, was inspired by his Cayuse ancestor Chief Five Crows. As it turns out, the Governor enjoys drawing and painting as a form of relaxation.

The artist bowls will be on display in store windows in downtown Leavenworth starting March 6. They will be on display at Ganz Klasse, Der Sportsmann, Simply Found, and Inside & Out. The bowls can also be seen starting in March at www.uvmend.org.

How does the Artist Bowl Auction work?

We are actually having two auction formats this year. Eleven bowls will be auctioned exclusively on the uvmend.org website starting at noon March 6 and ending at 8:30 p.m. on March 19. The bidding will start at $20, and the bid increment is also $20. There is a “buy now” feature where a bowl can be purchased outright for $1,000. Much to his delight, Terry Porlier’s beautiful “Snowy Owl at Sleeping Lady” bowl sold that way last year.

Three bowls will be auctioned exclusively live on KOHO Radio 101.1 FM from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. on March 19 and 20. Until several years ago we did the entire auction on-the-air. Going on-line made the auction easier in many ways, but Empty Bowls fans miss the friendly repartee of the call-in bidding.

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. For all the details on the auction go to www.uvmend.org.

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

Join us by listening in on KOHO Radio from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. on March 6, 19, and 20. There will be interviews with the artist and other volunteers, as well as the live bidding on the 19th and 20th.

Readers might consider making a tax deductible contribution to Empty Bowls to help defray our expenses. All of the contributions received in March and April are eligible for a partial match from the Feinstein Campaign to End Hunger. We have a “donate now” feature on the uvmend.org website. Or bid on a beautiful artist bowl.

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.

For more information on this year’s event and schedule, visit www.uvmend.org/emptybowls