On Friday, October 17, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., hundreds of Las Crucens will attend the 22nd year of an annual event that has become an important tradition: Empty Bowls. They will purchase their tickets, select a hand-made bowl, then consume soups and bread donated by over 40 local restaurants. They’ll enjoy this mid-day break knowing that they are doing it for a good cause: supporting El Caldito Soup Kitchen in their efforts to serve up to 100,000 meals to our homeless and near-homeless population. Empty Bowls raises about $20,000 each year, all of which goes to El Caldito.
While the soup is delicious — and there are so many choices, a high point of the event for many of us is picking
out just the right bowl as a memento of the event and a reminder of those who go hungry every day. I use one of my many bowls from previous Empty Bowls events every day and I always look forward to choosing a new one.
When perusing the many unique and distinctive bowls, have you pondered the many hands that were involved in creating them? The Las Cruces Potters Guild is the organization behind Empty Bowls and they’ve been creating the bowls for 22 years now. While most of us think of Empty Bowls only on that Friday in October, local potters have been making bowls for months. They plan to make 1200 of them this year.
According to potter Letha Rushing, “Many people touch the bowls, from making, trimming, glazing and firing. Some don’t even live in Las Cruces. It is a community effort.”
Each potter brings his or her own style to the process. Some bowls are whimsical and others sport more elegant designs. Some are made by potters who have crafted thousands of bowls and others are made by children first learning how to create them. There’s a bowl that matches the spirit of every visitor to Empty Bowls. And you can use them to decorate your home, give as a gift, or use as your every day cereal or soup bowl.
So, let’s take a moment to think about what goes into making a bowl. We’ll start with the clay — we won’t go all the way back to the steps of harvesting, processing, and selling the clay. First the potter must prepare the clay for use by wedging, or kneading, it. This requires some upper body strength, as does the next step of centering it on a wheel by pushing hard with both hands to make it an even shape to start the process of forming the bowl.
Then the potter forms the bowl, using hands, sponges, and tools. Once it is just right, it is removed from the wheel and left to dry. When you are choosing a bowl, you may wish to consider the fact that bowls made by experienced potters will likely have thinner, more even walls than those made by novices. Or, you may not care and just want to find the bowl that speaks to you.
After the bowl dries about a week, it is fired in a kiln for the first time — the green firing — at a temperature of 1950 degrees for 15 hours. After that, the bowl is glazed to give it color. The pot may be glazed by dipping into the liquid or painted on with a brush, depending on the look the potter desires. A bowl may also be dipped into multiple colors of glaze.
After the bowl is left to dry again, it is fired in a hotter kiln for the second firing. Once cool, final steps include grinding off any rough spots on the bottom of the bowl and cleaning it so that it is ready to shine for an Empty Bowls patron.
Multiply these steps by 1200 for the number of bowls the potters are creating. They must also be packed to be delivered to the event. Then at Empty Bowls, volunteers keep a steady supply of bowls on display in order to give patrons a wide selection of bowls.
So, when you attend Empty Bowls on Friday, October 17, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., and wander the tables looking for a bowl that calls your name, take a moment to thank the potters who have done so much work to prepare them for you. And, of course, think of the hungry who you are helping by taking part in this important community event.
Tickets for Empty Bowls are available in advance for $18 at Bernina Sewing and Design, Boudreau Jewelers and Gallery, Cutter Gallery, El Caldito Soup Kitchen, Main Street Bistro, Friendly Flowers, Mountain View Market, New Mexico Spanish Kitchen, Save Mart on Valley, Spirit Winds, The Potteries in Mesilla, and Color Your World. You can also buy them at the door for $20. Plan to stand in line as you wait your turn to select your bowl and soups as about 800 people came through the gates last year.
There will be entertainment by a variety of local musicians, including the Young at Heart Chorus.
For information about the Potters’ Guild, call 524-1146 or go online to pottersguildlc.com.
For information about Empty Bowls or El Caldito Soup Kitchen, call 525-3831 or check their website at elcaldito.com.