MIDDLESEX — “There’s something that can be very relaxing and open about a bowl,” Annie Schliffer said from her seat behind a pottery wheel. Within minutes, her hands had deftly molded a lump of spinning gray clay into a smooth and gracefully symmetrical bowl.
Schliffer, who is head of the Rochester Folk Art Guild’s pottery studio, gathered with several other potters in the studio July 3. The potters had volunteered to make 100 bowls for Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ upcoming Empty Bowls fundraiser.
This sounded like a lofty goal, but would probably be fairly easy to attain, noted Schliffer, who produced 14 bowls in quick succession during her brief interview with the Catholic Courier.
“These are really special bowls,” added Ruth Putnam Marchetti, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Livingston and Wayne counties and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
The Empty Bowls fundraiser will be held Oct. 16 and will raise money for needy children and families in Ontario, Yates, Seneca and Cayuga counties, Putnam Marchetti said. Art students from Geneva High School also have promised to make and donate 100 bowls, so Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes expects to have about 250 donated bowls, including some donated from Keuka College art students and The Wizard of Clay Pottery Workshop in Bristol, Putnam Marchetti said.
The Empty Bowls fundraiser is essentially a soup supper, and participants will be able to choose and purchase donated bowls to eat their supper in then bring home, Putnam Marchetti said as she kneaded a mound of clay in the guild’s pottery studio.
“People can come in and pick up their bowl and say, ‘I want to be able to eat out of that,’ and take it home,” added Mark Wenderlich, a member of the Empty Bowls fundraiser’s planning committee and a Keuka College theater professor.
The bowls will hopefully serve as a lasting and tangible reminder of the empty bowls that are a reality for many area residents who are struggling against hunger and poverty, Putnam Marchetti said. As gas prices rise, more and more people are struggling to make ends meet.
“In rural areas, transportation is a huge expense. If you’re going to be paying more to fill your tank to get to work, you’re going to have to cut from somewhere else,” she said. “It seems like there’s an increasing need among people for all kinds of emergency services, whether it be food or help with rent. Catholic Charities reaches out to whatever needs there are in the community and people of whatever faith or no faith.”
The Empty Bowls soup supper is one of several large events Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes is holding this year to mark the agency’s 25th anniversary, Putnam Marchetti said. The agency also is planning an interfaith peace forum for October, she added.
Members of the Rochester Folk Arts Guild also were excited about participating in the “bowlathon” — as they dubbed the July 3 bowl-making session — and the Empty Bowls fundraiser, said Schliffer’s husband, Paul. Coincidentally, 2007 also is an anniversary year for the guild, which is marking 40 years at its current location on East Hill Farm in Middlesex.
“The guild is a long-standing community of craftspeople who have gathered on this spot in Middlesex to work together and try to understand our world better and put things out there in the world that are beautiful,” Paul Schliffer said.
Besides the pottery studio, the guild also includes a boat shop; woodworking, textile and graphic-design studios; a musical ensemble; and the East Hill Gallery, where many of the guild’s products may be purchased. The guild also offers lessons, apprenticeships and an annual concert series, and puts on a series of annual craft shows in Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo, said Paul Schliffer, a flutist with the guild’s Ensemble Resonance.
Paul Schliffer heard about the soup-supper fundraiser after a chance conversation with Wenderlich at a diner in Penn Yan. He told his wife about the fundraiser, and Annie jumped at the chance to be involved, she said.
“I’ve always wanted to contribute in some way to the community at large, to find some way so that we’re not so isolated,” Annie Schliffer said. “Catholic Charities is a wonderful agency, and it’s a way for us to reach out. Just coming together as a group of potters just from the neighborhood is a really good thing.”
Annie Schliffer, Putnam Marchetti, Claire Willis, Nora Hooker, Autumn Star and Joanne Searle planned to spend about two hours July 3 wedging clay and “throwing” bowls for the fundraiser. Wedging clay is similar to kneading bread dough, Annie Schliffer said.
“We’re basically trying to get the clay homogenous, to get the air bubbles out,” she said.
The volunteer potters then put the clay on pottery wheels and “threw” or molded the bowls, she said. Annie Schliffer also had volunteered to complete the process once the bowl-throwing party was over. This would involved trimming a foot ring onto the bottoms of the bowls and bisque-firing them in a kiln heated to 1,750 degrees.
“After the bisque-firing the clay is still somewhat porous, and we dip it in a glaze that gives it color,” she said.
After glazing the bowls, she then planned to fire them again, this time in a 2,300-degree reduction kiln, which will withdraw the oxygen inside the kiln and bring out more colors in the bowls.