Kit Adams feeds her soul while feeding the hungry
By Dawn McDowell
"If you build the bowl, they will come." This may not be exactly what Kit Adams had in mind when she started the Empty Bowl Project in Austin, Texas, but in the four years since she and other community potters began sponsoring the event, that's been the result.
The concept is elegantly simple. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the public has the opportunity to buy soup bowls - crafted by local potters - filled with outrageously tasty soup donated by some of the best restaurants in town. Those attending the event select the bowl they want to buy, and the $15 they pay goes to Austin's Capital Area Food Bank.
Adams, owner of Clay Ways Pottery Studio and Gallery, had a two-fold motivation for launching the Empty Bowl Project. Many years ago, when having her own studio was only a dream, one of Adams' mentors - a nun who eventually went on to own her own multi-medium art complex - told Adams that if her dream was fulfilled, she needed to find a way to give back to the community. Soon after opening her studio in April 1996, Adams read about a similar project started by a group in Michigan to help the hungry. It seemed that this was the perfect marriage of her need to give back to those less fortunate and her talents as a potter. By convincing other area artisans to do the same, her efforts would, in turn, help others during a season when giving is such a focal point. And so the Austin Empty Bowl Project was born.
In November 1997, when the first event was held, Adams had no idea what to expect. "I was so nervous about what was going to happen that I called my mother at 3:30 in the morning and said, 'What happens if no one comes?'" she recalls. Her fears were rapidly extinguished when the doors opened and crowds poured in. Each year, the event attracts ever-growing numbers. "It's really become an 'Austin thing,'" says Adams, "and people really look forward to this."
Adams and the project volunteers quickly learned that things could get a bit harried. People's enthusiasm to choose their favorite bowl coupled with the number of folks participating can present quite a traffic jam. Remembering the second year the event was held, Adams quips, "(When I saw) that many people come in all at once, I felt like a deer staring into headlights. It was pretty amazing!" The event has become so popular that, last year, crowd control dictated that 25 people at a time were admitted to the studio, and a limit of two bowls per person was implemented.
The proceeds of the Empty Bowl Project are donated to the Capital Area Food Bank. Last year, the event raised over $15,000, which funded a variety of food projects to help feed the hungry in Central Texas.
With her trademark humility, Adams stresses that many groups and individuals from the Austin area pull together to make the Empty Bowl Project a success. For this year's event, numerous potters and pottery studios from throughout the Texas Hill Country are making and donating bowls. And it isn't only skilled potters who make bowls for the event; church groups, as well as elementary, middle and high school students also make bowls. Students of individual clay studios also pitch in to provide the rounded vessels. In all, over 1,800 bowls are expected for this year's event.
The soup to fill the bowls is donated from various restaurants throughout the region. And we're not talking the Cup O' Soup variety here. Last year, soup offerings included Roasted Artichoke Arribiata, Baked Potato, Vegetable Posole, Roasted Tomato Basil and Smoked Buttermilk Squash. The area's bakeries and cafes provide wonderful freshly baked bread to accompany the soup. Certainly, no one leaves feeling hungry.
For an added twist, there's also a silent auction for celebrity bowls signed by local (and not so local) celebrities. Last year, the event featured bowls signed by such notables as Governor George W. and Laura Bush, Lyle Lovette, Willie Nelson, Robert Duval, Johnny Depp, George Winston and The Indigo Girls. There was even "The Blues Bowl," signed by John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Vaughan and Susan Tedeschi.
This holiday season, Kit Adams will once again find the perfect gift, but it won't be from the latest cyber catalog or from a store's display case. Her time, her effort, and giving something of herself to her community and to others whom are less fortunate will be Adams' greatest gift. And the satisfaction she receives in return will be "Mmm, mmm, good!"