The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Empty Bowls: civic engagement through ceramics

On Sat. Feb. 9, Macalester students, staff and local community members streamed into the ceramics studio in Janet Wallace to attend the Empty Bowls workshop, where they were given one task: to make bowls. Empty Bowls will hold its second workshop of the semester this Saturday, March 9.

Empty Bowls is an organization that makes bowls for sale, then donates the proceeds to a local hunger-related charity. While this format has existed in other locations for much longer, Macalester has hosted Empty Bowl workshops for five years. The organization works with the Civic Engagement Center to organize workshops to make bowls and events to sell them. This year, the money from the final event is being donated to the Hallie Q. Brown Food Shelf, which provides food to families in the Summit-University neighborhood.

Headed by ceramics Professor Summer Hills-Boncyzk and a board of students, the program was first brought to campus by the late professor of ceramics, Gary Erikson. Hills-Boncyzk recounted how the students played a crucial part in keeping the program going after his untimely death. “There was so much energy and enthusiasm for it when I arrived,” Hills-Boncyzk said. “Everyone was like ‘Oh yeah, Empty Bowls is happening,’ and I’m like ‘What is this Empty Bowls thing?’ I kind of inherited it, but people were so excited about making it happen.”

One of the highlights of the program is its accessibility. Attending a workshop requires no previous experience in ceramics. At the Feb. 9 workshop, participants had the opportunity to learn the basic skills needed to hand-build bowls and decorate bowls other people made. They can also wheel-throw bowls if they already know how. “It’s a great way for people to get involved with clay and get their hands messy and make something, but also have it go to a good cause,” Hills-Boncyzk said.

The leadership board reflects this variety of experience as well. Norah Ntagungira ’22 became part of the organization after signing up at the first semester Student Involvement Fair. She had no ceramics experience prior to joining, but now organizes the fundraiser and helps out at every workshop. “I don’t know how to use a wheel so I make the bowls with my hands and teach other people how to do that as well, because I would say most people who come to the workshops don’t know how to use them either,” Ntagungira said.

Students create bowls. Photo by Alex Thomas ’22.

Other board members use the program as a way to continue practicing ceramics beyond the classes. Student leader Vincent Mougin ’20 recounts how he originally got involved. “I was passionate about ceramics in high school and wanted to find a way to carry that forward at Mac,” Mougin said. “After talking with [Hills-Boncyzk] about opportunities for folks who are not enrolled in a ceramics course to get in the studio, she suggested that I come to an Empty Bowls meeting.”

The most recent workshop had record attendance with over 50 people. Every wheel in the studio was in use, and the hand-building table was packed. People who arrived for the second half were often put to work decorating bowls because there were many more people than there were workstations. “I think this communal effort is unique and beautiful,” student leader Noah Heil ’19 said. “Multiple pairs of hands go into the creation of each bowl, from the hand-building, throwing, trimming, glazing and firing processes.”

Hopes are high that the next event will have an equally good turnout. While the last workshop was focused on creating bowls, this next one will be all about glazing the bowls that have already been made. This function will take place Saturday, March 9 from 1-4 p.m. in the ceramics studio. Those interested can sign up online through the Civic Engagement Center to reserve a space, but everyone is encouraged to just show up.

The final event of the year is the Gary Erickson Empty Bowls Fundraiser on March 31 from 11-2 p.m. People are encouraged to come listen to music and eat soup and other snacks. Attendees can also take home any of the 200 bowls made over the past two semesters for a suggested donation of $10 per bowl.

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