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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 21, No. 11, Dec. 6, 2001

Ceramics class makes bowls for Empty Bowls fund-raising event

ByMelissa Mitchell, News Bureau Staff Writer
(217) 333-5491; melissa@illinois.edu

Photo by Bill Wiegand
Art for non-profit
Art and design professor Ron Kovatch (left) observes James Kearns, senior in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, as he creates a ceramic bowl similar to those students created for the Empty Bowls fund-raiser to take place in Bloomington in January to benefit McLean County organizations fighting hunger. "Artists are always asked to donate a piece to benefit great causes and institutions," Kovatch said. "We’re really hit up a lot. So, this was a perfect project to hit my advanced students with."

Round and round and round it goes. When the wheel stops, all James Kearns knows is that the two pounds of clay he’s been working will ultimately take shape as somebody’s one-of-a-kind chili bowl.

Kearns, a senior majoring in ceramics, and classmates in Ron Kovatch’s advanced ceramics class actually threw, trimmed, glazed and fired somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 such bowls this semester as part of an assignment that emphasized both skill-building and community service.

The cream of the crop – 50 bowls in all, some made by the students, some by Kovatch – have been wrapped and packed, and are awaiting shipment to the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington, where they will be sold and filled with chili at the center’s "Empty Bowls" fund-raiser on Jan. 18. Kovatch said the fund-raiser – the first of its kind for the Bloomington arts center – is being held to raise money for McLean County organizations that fight hunger. The concept is not new, however. Similar events have been held throughout the country for several years, with information and support provided by the Imagine/Render Group, a national nonprofit organization that describes itself as being "dedicated to positive and lasting social change through the arts, education and projects that build community."

The bowls donated by Kovatch and his students will be combined with similar vessels contributed by five Bloomington-area ceramics instructors and their students.

The chili supper will take place at 6 p.m. in the McLean Arts Center’s Brandt Gallery, 601 N. East St., Bloomington. Admission is $15, which includes chili, cornbread, beverages, dessert, and of course, a handmade, ceramic chili bowl. Attendance will be limited to 200.

Tickets go on sale Dec. 14 at the opening reception for an exhibition of ceramic bowls by professional artists, at the arts center’s Armstrong Gallery. Exhibiting artists include Kovatch and other instructors contributing to the "Empty Bowls" fund-raiser, as well as other area ceramic artists. That exhibition will be on view through Jan. 26.

Kovatch said various parties had approached him in the past about becoming involved in such fund-raisers, but the timing always had been off. This time around, when the arts center’s head curator, Alison Hatcher, tossed the idea out to him after he exhibited a new body of work there last December, Kovatch bit. "The seed had been planted before," he said, adding that Hatcher’s offer came with plenty of lead time to prepare.

"I could’ve made the bowls myself and been done with it," Kovatch said. "But I decided to make it a student project for two reasons. One, it’s a great way to learn. Throwing pottery on a wheel, you accumulate skills and confidence with practice. It’s a great assignment because bowls are one of the first throwing assignments."

Kovatch also thought the exercise would give his students a preview of what they can expect to encounter once they become established artists within a community.

"Artists are always asked to donate a piece to benefit great causes and institutions. We’re really hit up a lot. So, this was a perfect project to hit my advanced students with."

All of them responded to the assignment "like troopers," Kovatch said, even though they aren’t all what he calls "throwers, or potters." Some of them focus exclusively on making hand-built, sculptural works. Since the bowls had to meet a variety of functional requirements, only the throwers could actually make the bowls.

"At first, the kids who didn’t throw were worried they wouldn’t be participating," Kovatch said. "But in the end, it was very communal." The non-throwers enthusiastically jumped in and volunteered to do the grunt work – mixing glazes and decorative slips, and mixing and wedging large barrels of clay.

"Then the throwers just had to sit down, reach for a ball of clay and go to work," Kovatch said. "Many of them threw 25 pots to get 10 finished pieces. But having the clay ready to go allowed them the ability to focus, to get into a rhythm and get some momentum.

"The students were jazzed," he said. "And we ended up with 50 pots that are really striking."

Empty Bowls chili supper
6 p.m. Jan. 18
Brandt Gallery of McLean County Arts Center
601 N. East St., Bloomington
Cost: $15; limit of 200 tickets available starting Dec. 14 at the opening of the exhibition (see below). After Dec. 14, available by calling (309) 829-0011.

Art Exhibition

Opening reception: 5 to 7 p.m., Dec. 14 continues Dec. 15-Jan. 26: Tuesdays: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Wednesdays-Fridays: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturdays: noon to 4 p.m.
Armstrong Gallery of McLean County Arts Center


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