Local potters craft bowls for the needy

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 18, 2009

An empty bowl offers no nourishment for those in need of food.

But, when the empty bowls are part of Natchez Clay’s biennial fundraiser, aptly named Empty Bowls, the hungry are fed.

That’s because the money raised for the sale of those bowls will be donated to the Natchez Stewpot.

Email newsletter signup

But the name of the event can be a little deceiving since the bowls won’t actually be empty.

They will be filled with sausage and chicken gumbo provided by John Hicks from Hicks Distributing.

The fundraiser will be from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Natchez Clay studio on Clifton Avenue. Ticket holders will come on that day, pick out a bowl and have it filled with gumbo. When the gumbo is gone, the bowl is theirs to keep.

Atendees are encouraged to eat in the courtyard area at the Natchez Clay studio but to-go orders are also available.

While the event is only one day in February, the preparation for the event started long ago.

“We started making bowls for this in the summer,” event chairman Amanda Jeansonne said. “Each potter pledges a certain number of bowls at that time.”

The potters’ pledges totaled 300 bowls and ticket holders will have a chance to pick their favorite bowl on the day of the event.

Jeansonne made 30 bowls for the event, which has special meaning for her because her mother was the event’s founder.

“My mom, Edna Ferguson, saw an article about an Empty Bowls event elsewhere,” Jeansonne said. “She came in to the studio and said we can do this.”

So, beginning in 2005, every two years, local potters grab some extra clay and pour a little more glaze to create several hundred distinctly unique food vessels.

The final look of each bowl is just a guess even for the potter that created it since the glazing process is not an exact science.

So when the kiln is opened after a firing, it is a bit like a Christmas morning surprise.

“We have test tiles, but you can never know exactly what you are going to get,” said Sara Cochran, resident potter at Natchez Clay. “It is not a fixed process.”

This year’s total is the largest number of bowls ever created for the event.

“We’ve gotten faster,” Jones said. “We just love clay.”

And though all of the potters love clay, it is a deeper love for community that has them spending the hours creating bowls of all shapes and sizes.

“This is a hobby for all of us,” said Donna Jones, owner of Natchez Clay. “But what is important is the cause we are doing it for.”

At the last Empty Bowls event, in 2007, more than $10,000 was raised, and Jones is hoping for more of the same this time

“We’d love to do $10,000 again,” she said.

But no matter the amount raised, 100 percent will be donated to the Stewpot.

“That’s something we are proud of,” Jeansonne said. “There are no overhead expenses that come out of the money raised. It all goes to the Stewpot.”

Tickets for the event are $25 each and can be purchased at Natchez Coffee Company on Franklin Street or by calling Jeansonne at 601-446-9549.

They can also be purchased at Natchez Clay from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Also, on the day of Empty Bowls, there will be a free raffle for a clay party at the studio.

Jones, who co-owns Natchez Clay with Jacque Stahlman, said tickets for the event tend to go quickly.

“After the event is publicized, the tickets don’t last,” Jones said. “They are gone usually within two weeks, if not sooner.”