While a handcrafted bowl is a beautiful object in and of itself, an empty vessel serves as a reminder of the 900,000 people — 53,000 everyday — that routinely go hungry in Southeast Texas. For a city that talks big of its economic strength, that's not a statistic Houstonians are proud of — and a group of artists is doing what it can to make those numbers history.
In my Art and About video adventure (above), I meet potters Steve Campbell and Karen Fiscus and custom furniture maker Clark Kellogg.
The trio is part of an effort to fashion 100 bowls or more each — alongside artists Renee LeBlanc, Angel Oloshove and Mak Taing — to donate to an annual fundraiser benefiting the Houston Food Bank.
"There are not many situations in life where everybody wins," Campbell says. "It's a way for us as a group to make a statement and do something where we otherwise wouldn't have such a big impact individually."
At the Eighth Annual Empty Bowls Houston, set for May 26 at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and presented by Whole Foods Market, guests will choose from a seemingly endless supply of one-of-a-kind dishes — made by local ceramists, woodturners, glass artists, fiber artists, metalsmiths, mosaicists, polymer clay artists, sculptors and artists working in any media — and enjoy a simple lunch of soup, bread and water. At $25 a pop, the art has raised close to $270,000 since the event's inception eight years ago.
"Countless times I have had people feel a bowl, buy a bowl come back and talk about it and say, it just feels so good in my hands. That's a gift from one set of hands to another person's hands."
Last year's funds subsidized the cost of feeding three meals to 50,000 people.
"The way the economy is going, I could end up hungry, too," Fiscus says. "When I am able to put in a bit of effort to help others, maybe at some point, when I need help, it can be returned. I want to help when I can."
For Kellogg, who otherwise crafts custom furniture, turning bowls is something he took on exclusively for the Empty Bowls initiative. Participating in the 100 Bowls Challenge reminds him that there's others faced with more pressing concerns than his own.
All his bowls are from domestic hardwoods extracted from local trees that came down naturally or had to be removed for some reason. The beauty, he says, is never knowing what will pop out when turning the raw material, whether that's a curly maple, red oak, pecan, pearwood, Osage-orange, cherry or avocado tree. Each of his 52 creations made so far are chronicled in the 100 Bowls blog.
Campbell says eating out of handcrafted bowl is personal. That's what Empty Bowls is all about.
"Countless times I have had people feel a bowl, buy a bowl, come back and talk about it and say, it just feels so good in my hands," he explains.
"That's a gift from one set of hands to another person's hands."
The Eighth Annual Empty Bowls Houston event, chaired by Tom Perry, is on May 26 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. For $25, patrons pick a handmade bowl and enjoy lunch, with live music provided by Tyagaraja, The Literary Greats and Chase Hamblin. Proceeds benefit the Houston Food Bank.