Art almost never exists in a vacuum. The artist feels compelled to make or do something new, uniquely reflecting their inner life and putting it out there for other people to experience and absorb. How wonderful it is, then, when artists step up to offer their work in the service of those less fortunate.
In the 1990s an art teacher in Michigan had the idea to have his high-school ceramics students make bowls to sell to raise money for their local food bank, and added the creative touch of including a serving of soup with each bowl. The idea caught on, and now there are thousands of annual Empty Bowls events around the world, raising significant funds to support food-related charities and feeding the hungry in their communities.
Since 1997 the Prescott Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Granite Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation have been hosting Prescott’s Empty Bowls events, growing ever bigger and drawing increasing community support. This being their silver anniversary and also the first live Empty Bowls event since before Covid, it is shaping up to be an especially festive one.
All are invited to the courthouse plaza on Sunday, September 18, 11am-2pm, where for $20 you can choose your favorite bowl and enjoy two servings from a large array of soups, bread and a bottle of water. There will be hundreds of bowls to choose from, all made and donated by local potters and woodturners. The gourmet soups will be available from 14 local chefs, with fresh bread furnished by local bakeries, this year including Veronica Garcia of Hotcakez Baking Company.
The Empty Bowls initiative seeks to involve as much of the community as possible. This year there will be commemorative tee shirts for sale, but rather than just ask a graphic designer to create one, the EB committee decided to host a design contest with submissions from Prescott High School students, juried by local artists, with prizes for the top four designs. The committee was amazed to receive 72 submissions! The event will include an awards ceremony for these budding designers.
In addition to picking out a bowl and enjoying the soup, visitors can check out the table set up by Molly Beverly of Prescott Slow Food, the Prescott Farmers Market and the Yavapai County Cooperative Extension to learn about food insecurity and scarcity. Greg and the Gringos, who wrote a song especially for the 2020 event that you can check out on the EB website, will provide live music. A benefit art auction will include pieces created to commemorate the silver anniversary of our local EB event. To help keep visitors safe, masks and hand-sanitizer will be available.
All the bowls are made locally, and the committee wants to especially thank the potters at Yavapai College, the Prescott Area Wood Turners and the many other participating potters.
For the last few years there has been a new source of bowls from over the hill in Clarkdale. Reitz Ranch, the last home and studio of acclaimed ceramic artist Don Reitz, is a community clay center where Verde Valley mudslingers can take classes and share studio space.
Situated on 14 acres right on the Verde River, the ranch was purchased not long after Don’s passing by Sheryl Leigh-Devalt. Sheryl had been living in Phoenix and was already hooked on clay when she heard about the ranch going up for sale. Sheryl was buddies with a couple of other clay artists who had experience firing pottery in wood-fueled kilns. When they heard that Don Reitz’s place had more than one wood kiln, they helped persuade Sheryl and her husband Ted to buy it. Once it was opened to the public, classes began to fill up and a clay community was born.
I remember at Granite Peak two years ago, when Empty Bowls was being held online and people were getting their bowls in a quick drive-by, when Sheryl pulled up with a car filled with bowls from her Reitz Ranch potters. It was such a generous contribution and everyone was so touched that they wanted to help out. This year again the RR potters will be hauling bowls over the hill for Prescott’s Empty Bowls. And so the circles of community ripple outward.
All proceeds from Empty Bowls go to local food-related charities. Last year, even though the event was virtual and without bowls or soup due to the pandemic, the event raised $17,000. The ever-generous and community-minded Barry Barbe offered to take bowls from the canceled event and sell them with soup at El Gato Azul, donating the proceeds to EB. Forty bowls were also donated to the Solid Rock soup kitchen. This year, with food-insecurity approaching 15% in Yavapai County, the Empty Bowls organizers are promoting sponsorships to raise additional funds. In a nod to the 25th anniversary, they are seeking Silver Sponsors to help them reach the goal of $25,000.
To find out more about Prescott Empty Bowls, go to prescott-empty-bowls. square.site. For more about Reitz Ranch, visit Reitzranch.org.
Photos by Norma West.