Filling stomachs, one bowl at a time

It took just a few minutes for Jann Tamburello's practiced hands to prod and pull the lump of clay on her potter's wheel at the Columbia Association Art Center into a smooth, round bowl.

But before it is complete, the bowl will have dry a little bit, have its base formed and edges trimmed, be fired in a kiln for 12 hours, be covered in glaze, be fired for 18 more hours and come out intact.


Before the art center opens its doors for "Empty Bowls: A Community Event to Help Fight Hunger in Howard County" on Feb. 3, that process has to happen more than 300 times so every guest can select an original bowl to take home.

Proceeds from the event will benefits Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, a nonprofit Howard County agency that provides food as well as counseling, shelter and other services.


When the planning process began, Christina McCleary, the ceramics studio director, said she thought about producing hundreds of bowls and "I was a little intimidated."

But the efforts of more than 20 volunteers in six months have ensured the center - which is providing materials and equipment - has about 120 bowls ready to go and a couple hundred more somewhere in the process. Because ceramic can break or warp during firing, McCleary said the volunteers need to make about 25 percent more than they expect to end up with. The center is using more of an assembly-line approach to making pottery for the event, with artists trimming or glazing several bowls in a row, including those thrown by other potters.

Yesterday, Tamburello, who is from Ellicott City, was joined for an informal work session by two women with whom she has been taking classes and making pottery for more than 10 years.

She said the opportunity to share the work on lots of pieces has been satisfying in its own way.

"I feel free to kind of experiment," she said. "It's more relaxing."

Annette Morgan of Ellicott City was forming the bases for bowls that had already been thrown. "You wouldn't believe there are so many shapes on bowls relatively the same size," she said.

Add in 25 different colors of glaze, which turn out slightly different every time they are fired, and each bowl is unique even through "they all look like siblings," McCleary said.

Sue Nicholson of Columbia said she likes having an outlet for a hobby she loves.


"How can we use all the bowls we make?" she asked. "Most of us that come here don't need anything, and others do."

She also said she gets "a shot in the arm" from working alongside other potters. "I feed off other people's ideas and watch them work," she said.

Several scheduled work days brought in larger groups of potters. On those days, "we've had a whole lot of people come out that we don't get to see," Nicholson said. "We catch up with people we've known on and off for 10 years."

Nicholson was one of the first people to suggest the fundraiser, which has been done in other cities, and she and her husband are on the event planning committee. She said the biggest challenges have been organizational, as the group tries for the first time to provide food and entertainment for a large crowd.

"We are new at the whole thing except making the bowls," she said.

The Empty Bowls idea started in 1990 when a high school art class in Michigan wanted to support a food drive. After a meal of soup and bread, guests were allowed to keep the handmade bowls as a reminder of hunger in the world.


Numerous other Empty Bowls fundraisers combining ceramics with fighting hunger have been held across the country since, and a national nonprofit organization has formed to support the concept.

At the Columbia Association Art Center's event, guests will enjoy food from local restaurants, live music and a silent art auction. They will also be able to tour the art center and see the county's largest ceramic's studio, where volunteers plan to demonstrate some bowl-making techniques.

"It is a chance to promote our programs and get some new blood here," McCleary said. "People can see what we do."

Director Liz Henzey said Empty Bowls was under consideration previously because former director Rebecca Bafford was seeking ways to expand the art center's connections to the community.

Bafford left to coordinate ceramics and sculpture at Howard Community College, but Henzey said she was excited to move forward with the idea.

"This type of event has provides us an opportunity to work with other companies and businesses in the community that are not necessarily related to the arts," Henzey said. "It has strengthened our relationships for future collaborations and given us a sensitivity to what is out there in the community."


Empty Bowls will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 3 at Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth, Columbia. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Information: 410-730-0075 or