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Pottery Making Hobby Helps Fill Empty Bowls

As he neared retirement, Brent Farler of Bartonville, Texas, decided that throwing pottery would be his new avocation. To support that effort, his wife, Janie, presented him with a kiln at Christmas.

The couple had barely begun learning the art of pottery when a friend told them about the Empty Bowls program, an international grassroots effort to raise money and awareness in the fight against hunger. The friend also announced that she’d volunteered them to make pottery bowls for an Empty Bowls fundraising dinner in Fredericksburg, Texas. Supporters would donate $20 and receive a keepsake bowl filled with soup. All money raised would go to Head Start, an education program designed to aid low-income children.

“I said, ‘We’re just beginners. They don’t want our bowls,’” Janie protested. “But the Empty Bowls committee said they’d take whatever we could donate.”

The premature promise of bowls put the fledgling potters to work. They started throwing clay on their potter’s wheel, making bowls as quickly as possible and learning their new hobby as they went along. “It was really helpful to us because we were trying to improve,” said Janie.  “I don’t know how many bowls I’ve made—hundreds. And I can’t tell you how many I threw away. It is a learned skill. It’s not something you can just sit down and do.”

Janie farler on the pottery wheel  Janie Farler with completed pottery bowl
(Left to right) Janie Farler throws a pot in her home studio. This pre-fired pot demonstrates Janie’s improved skills since over her earliest efforts. Photos By Pat Pape.

With the aid of students in a pottery class they took simultaneously, the Farlers donated more than 60 bowls to the Fredericksburg Empty Bowls fundraiser and 20 more for another Empty Bowls benefit in Denton, Texas, to help a local soup kitchen. “And they were happy to get them,” Janie said.

The couple’s deep dive into the complex pottery process increased their love of pottery making as it improved their knowledge and skill. “There is art and science to making bowls, and I like both,” Janie said. “The art is first in creating the form and then figuring out how to decorate it. I like the science of what clay will do, and that takes a long time to figure out. I also love the feel of clay in my hands and getting my hands dirty.”

Glazing is still a challenge for the newbie potters. “You first fire a pot at about 1900 degrees, and then glaze it and fire it again at 2200 degrees,” she explained.

“The whole glaze process is chemistry, and you put the glaze on not really knowing how the piece will look when it’s finished,” said Janie, adding that the appearance of the same glaze will vary depending on how fast you heat and cool the piece and how long it’s held in the kiln.

pottery bowls
An assortment of pots recently made by the Empty Bowls supporters.  Photo By Pat Pape.

The experience demonstrated to the Farlers the impact their pottery could make, and already they are working on donations for the 2013 Empty Bowls soup dinner. “We’ll be donating a good number,” Janie said.

At the same time, she’s moved on to making lidded boxes. “There’s always so much to learn,” she said.

Pat Pape is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She lives on five acres, dubbed Pigs Fly Ranch, just north of Dallas, along with her husband, cats, dogs and pygmy goats.