'Bowlerama' provides 'service and beauty'


BRATTLEBORO -- By creating and donating bowls, local artist Alan Steinberg says volunteers are providing both service and beauty through art.

"Beauty is a whole other thing than pretty," he said. "Beauty is how we relate to each other as a species."

Approximately 15 people attended the Saturday morning class at Clayworks in Brattleboro, where bowls were made and will be donated for the annual Empty Bowls dinner. Another 15 attended the afternoon class, making both classes at the studio full for the day.

Steinberg normally takes on a maximum of 10 students in a class. But for the cause, he says the studio tries to push it. They call it "Bowlerama" and anyone can come.

The Empty Bowls dinner has always assisted with bringing in extra funding for the Brattleboro Drop-In Center. Attendees pay a small fee to eat a meal and take home a bowl created by local potters.

"It's one of our largest fundraisers," said Drop-In Center Director Lucy Fortier. "It's been part of the Drop-In Center since Day 1. When you walk in and see all these bowls, it's just an awesome feeling to know how much work has gone into it."

The Drop-In Center provides food and a place where homeless individuals can receive their mail, take showers and clean their clothing. They can also receive assistance with filling out applications for food stamps, rentals and getting non-driving IDs. Cooking classes will be offered there in the summer.

The Empty Bowls event will mark both the dinner and the center's 11th year in existence. It is held in October, on the Saturday of Columbus Day weekend. Steinberg donates anywhere from 25 to 50 bowls for the dinner. Other studios also participate in "Bowlerama" events to inspire more donations.

Clayworks is a group studio with eight members, who rent out the space and conduct classes.

"It's kind of a clay cooperative," said Ann Lauterbach, a member. "Our goal today is to make 75. I think we'll make it. Community-wide, about 1,000 get made. There's a bowl there for everyone it seems."

For the "Bowlerama," many of Clayworks' attendees were new to the art of making bowls. They used rolling pins to even out the thickness of the clay, which oftentimes was put over a mold of a bowl to get its shape.

There were many designs. There were infinite possibilities, artists assisting some of the newer potters confirmed.

Difficulties encountered mostly involved pressing or pinching the edges. Some people opted for imperfect designs, which Steinberg was not at all against. Lauterbach mentioned the size of the bowls. Once put in a kiln, the bowls shrink by approximately 12 percent.

One of the attendees returning from last year enjoys putting messages into his bowls. He played around with the idea of putting a Shakespeare quote in this year's creation.

Clayworks has hosted a "Bowlerama" every year for Empty Bowls.

"We always get a crowd," said Steinberg. "Often, they go to the dinner and it blows them away. We feed each other with art."

Brattleboro Union High School student Tamika Bacon said she made a clay head during a regular art class. But at Clayworks, she learned how to smooth out the wrinkles before her bowl went to a kiln. She was there with the local Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program, which continues during the summer with activities and serves Brattleboro Union High School, Bellows Falls Union and Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School.

"We do these wonderful things," said Bacon.

RAMP Coordinator Jess Rodrigues says the program focuses on job and interview skills but also community service, a category the "Bowlerama" fit into.

"It's good to be together in a natural way, where we can all be learning at the same time," said Rodrigues.

That was her first activity as coordinator and first time making a bowl. She previously served as an intern. Next week, a trip will be made to Harlow Farm so that students in the program can participate in gleaning.

Before the session was over, Emily Wright had finished making four bowls. She volunteered to return to Clayworks and glaze the bowls that were made during "Bowlerama." It would take a week or two for the pieces to dry.

"It's nice working with clay again," said Wright, a Brattleboro native who currently is a student at Alfred University and volunteered to assist local artist Bonnie Stearns for the summer. Stearns owns Creating with Clay, a studio near Living Memorial Park in Brattleboro.

The bowls will go through a bisque firing process and will be put on an electric kiln. Afterwards, the pieces will go through glaze firing and then will be put on the gas kiln outside of Clayworks.

"With the final firing, you get much more interesting results," said Steinberg. "This (gas) kiln can create a smoky atmosphere, which you can't with an electric."

According to Fortier, the Drop-In Center has recently suffered budget cuts, not just on the state and federal level. Private grants from Vermont Yankee were also cut after it was announced the Vernon-based nuclear plant would be closing.

Although funding has decreased, clientele has grown. Last month, over 1,000 people came through the facility. The center also delivers food to 19 shut-ins on a weekly basis.

Other major fundraisers throughout the year include "Load the Latchis" in August and "Project Feed the Thousands." For the Latchis Theater event, people fill approximately 500 seats in the main theater with groceries from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"It always amazes me to see how well the folks of Brattleboro support us," said Fortier.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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