"To work with clay is to be in touch with the taproot of life."
--Shoji Hamada, Japanese potter
This weekend, Perkins Center for the Arts hosts “Empty Bowls,” a unique charity event, as part of its Clay Fest.
From trying out a kickwheel to demonstrating how to use clay artwork in your home, the entire exercise is meant to introduce guests to “the whole experience of clay,” said Perkins Center director Alan Willoughby, himself a clay artist.
“People who maybe aren’t around handmade clay work all the time are hesitant to actually use [and display clay art in their home],” he said.
But the centerpiece of the weekend is the Empty Bowls fundraiser that will take place from 12-3 p.m. Saturday.
For those three hours, guests can pay $10 for a handmade bowl that is then filled with their choice of soup or salad from a local restaurant. The proceeds are split 50/50 among Perkins and the Food Bank of South Jersey; if the event sells out, it could raise as much as $2,000 for each institution.
Perkins will dedicate its share to a scholarship fund that helps students of need attend its art classes, which typically range from $100 to $120 for a 10-week session.
Although Perkins is itself a nonprofit organization, the donation is a statement of community support, Willoughby said, “not only in this day and age, but this fall in terms of everything that’s happened with the hurricane and the need.
“We’ll feel really good about taking that check over to the food bank,” he said.
After last year’s Empty Bowls event, he remembered handing over $1,500 to Lydia Cipriani, director of development at the Food Bank. She remarked on “how unusual” it was for one nonprofit to accept a financial gift from another.
“Empty Bowls is a national program where everybody sort of takes it and creates their own version of it,” Willoughby said. “That’s why we got involved in this."
Amid the novelty and charity of the event, it should not be discounted the undertaking behind handcrafting 400 clay bowls. Heading up that task was Paul Serena, who manages the ceramics studio at Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown. Serena said this event has been on his radar since September.
“It’s definitely a lot of work and a lot of planning for just three hours,” Serena said. “And it’s a crazy three hours, but it’s definitely worth it.”
To create the inventory necessary for the event, Serena hosted throw-a-thons during which artists, their friends and family crafted bowls at the Perkins Center Moorestown location. Some folks threw clay, others trimmed and glazed bowls. Everyone involved put a part of themselves into the work, he said.
“It becomes interesting because the bowl-making process is done in stages,” Serena said. “By the time the bowl is finished, it may have gone through two or three different artists. A lot of times the person who started out with the bowl might see it differently.”
Serena also points out that although the pieces are art, and although they are beautiful and handmade, “this isn’t a bowl sale.
“It’s a donation,” he said, “a fundraiser for hunger relief; and I want the bowl to be seen as a gift, as a thank-you.”
Saturday’s menu includes the following dishes from local restaurants.
- Keg and Kitchen: Pasole, a Mexican soup made with pork, noodles, hominy, cilantro, chilies, and tortillas.
- Tortilla Press: Vegetarian tomato tortilla soup
- Espressit: Potato leek mushroom soup, vegan squash soup, split pea soup
- Pop Shop: Caesar salad with Asiago cheese, homemade croutons, and homemade Caesar dressing.
- Tres Yan & Wu: Chicken cream of corn soup, vegetarian hot and sour soup