Empty Bowls brings heart, soup to Arts Center

By Kate Hayden, khayden@charlescitypress.com

In literature, an empty bowl is a simple symbol of hunger or need.

In pottery, it is a beginner’s lesson — a new start.

The Charles City Arts Center’s annual Empty Bowls fundraiser returns on Feb. 16 with a striking deal: $10 for a handmade bowl by a local potter, filled with homemade soup from community volunteers. All the night’s profits go to benefit Messiahs Food Pantry on Main Street.

The meal runs from 5-7 p.m. in the Arts Center, but come early, advises Barbara Thomsen.

“People swarm in and pick their bowls,” Thomsen, a regular volunteer and potter at the Arts Center, said. “If you are particular about what color or size you want, you should come early.”

Diners will pay and choose their bowl on the main floor of the Arts Center, then go downstairs to the basement classroom for dinner and seating. Soup this year is provided by Julie Morton and Stewart Dalton, with dessert and other offerings provided by center volunteers.

There is elevator access to both floors and a ramp on the Kelly Street entrance to the Arts Center.

Thomsen was first acquainted with the Empty Bowls fundraiser around 2000, when she was a member of a potter’s guild in Lansing, Michigan.

“We had big Empty Bowls celebrations then,” Thomsen said. “The one in Lansing was a much bigger potter’s guild … Here, it’s very much like our regular opens on Friday evenings. People come and they see their friends. It’s just a people thing.”

“You get to find out who the potters are in your community, and what kind of bowls they make, what kind of pottery they make.”

In Charles City, the first Empty Bowls fundraiser was organized by then-director Nicole Phend about five years ago, Thomsen said.

“We didn’t have as big a turnout as we have the last two years here. The last two years here, we’ve had over 100 bowls, and maybe had 20 left over,” Thomsen said. “It’s a very popular thing. Not only do you get a bowl, but you get soup, bread and friends here.”

“It’s one of the most popular events” the Arts Center puts on, Thomsen said.

This year, Thomsen and six other local artists — Nancy Clarke, Art Strong, Emily Kiewel, Jon Schneckloth, Nate Trettin and Morton — will have about 130 bowls for participants to choose from.

“There’s great variety,” Thomsen said. “This year, Julie Morton and Nancy Clarke decided to drape clay over other bowls they liked the shape of, and alter those shapes. They kind of ruffled … there’s some really unusual bowls.

“And then there are a lot of wheel-thrown soup bowls, so we have quite a variety of shapes this year.”

Thomsen herself also experimented with a half-dozen handbuilt bowls, working with coiling and slab-building techniques. Most of her bowls available to pick on Friday are wheel-thrown.

The gallery show this month is antique Valentines cards, collected by artist Judy Sebern Beachy.

Sebern Beachy has about 35 individual and framed pieces of Valentines cards from members of her family on display. Pieces of her own artwork are included in the display as well — one peace sign will be raffled off during Empty Bowls, Arts Center director Jacqueline Davidson said.

Last year’s event raised about $500 in profits for Messiahs Food Pantry after expenses restocked the Arts Center’s pottery room. The center is hoping to at least match that in donations this year, Davidson said.

“We’ll be happy to see you and feed you — feed your body and your soul,” Thomsen said.