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soup, empty bowls, galleries, hunting...

updated thu 10 mar 05


Richard Aerni on wed 9 mar 05

Various thoughts on various topics; you can take them or leave them...

On Tue, 8 Mar 2005 22:28:04 -0800, Richard Mahaffey

>I think the original benefit soup and bowl sale was at Mt San Antonio
>College in southern California.
>I know that they were doing that in the late 1960's.
>It was to benefit the ceramics program there. Just trying to set the
>record straight.


Your dates would precede the beginnings of the Empty Bowls movement. John
Hartom (who started Empty Bowls) used to come to my studio in the late 70s
and early 80s to buy pots, and that was before he started the Empty Bowls
thing. When he got together with Lisa Blackburn(?), and Gerry Williams of
Studio Potter Magazine gave them some publicity, it really took off.
I think it's a great idea, and if the idea fits a good cause, then more
power to it. Much better to do good than ill.

On a similar vein, since NCECA is coming up, the Studio Potter Network (when
I was on the Board of Advisors) started a benefit cup sale for the Network
at NCECA. This would have been either at the Cincinnati or the San Diego
NCECA. It was a huge success. At the next year's NCECA, the NCECA
scholarship cup sale was unveiled, and ours was "discontinued". So it goes.
It's doing good for folks who need some help.

Last year, I would say I was asked to donate to at least a dozen Empty Bowls
events. (Not including all the other dozens of worthy causes that wanted my
work for their events.) I sent bowls to Louisville, Kansas City, Rochester,
and Michigan. I decided that was enough. Those were the ones to which I
had a personal connection. But I think what Rick and Mel say is
right...much better to make fewer soup bowls (if you're in the business
professionally) and make a larger and more valuable bowl for auction, if
your work can command better prices. Let those who need the practice crank
out the soup bowls for sale. I know that's what happens here in Rochester
and in other places. Usually the hosting studio or organization hosts a
"bowl day" where potters come in and work for the day making the bowls for
sale. Starts the community at the potter level, getting folks together for
the cause, instead of a cheap mass produced letter that goes out to every
potter in creation.

>As an aside, at sales and fairs I hear people say these bowls are too
>expensive, I pay $10.00 at the such and such sale, wait until
>then....................they usually don't even know that it is to
>benefit food banks.
>We can run ourselves out of the bowl business.

Funny that you mention this, Rick. I had a lengthy talk last night with one
of my galleries, which shall remain nameless but whose clay selection is one
of the best that I have ever seen (and I've seen a lot of galleries around
the country). The owner was ruminating over the fact that clay, and
particularly smaller functional clay, was not selling very well, and hadn't
been selling well for the past couple of years. They have been trying to
figure out why, and to adapt their buying habits to try to figure out the
reasoning of the consumers. First, they figured that people may have been
tired of buying brown wood-fired work, so they went more into porcelain and
then tried the more colorful low-fired work. Same results. Then they
invested more heavily into the more dramatic "display" type of pot, and
their sales picked up somewhat, though they are still moribund. Ultimately,
they've decided that the nice quality, but cheap, imports that are flooding
the stores have dampened the buying desires of the consumer for American
handmade pottery. At a regional gallery level, we can't compete with the
imports. They are now only buying mugs, soup bowls, dinnerware from a local
potter who makes and sells them very cheaply, and will deliver. The
changing marketplace...Oh, and they're spending far more on jewelry and
wood, which do seem to be selling well.

About hunting...
I lived in the country for the past 17 years before moving to the city last
year. Hunting was a way of life out there. I didn't know anyone with
trophies on their walls, but knew lots of people who stocked their freezers
with their efforts. Hunting meant food. It also meant a certain
cameraderie with your hunting buddies, and was a ritual that was imbued with
the passing of time in the same way that Memorial Day means "summer's
on...let's party!", and Christmas and New Year's means "winter's on, let's
party cuz we're going to freeze for the next four months!" and other
indicators of the year's passage. But at root, for most I know, hunting
meant shopping for food.
It took me a while to understand this when I moved to the country from the
city. But eventually I got it. There are an awful lot of poor people in
the country who need that meat for their freezers. There are also an awful
lot of people in the country who are connected to the land in a way that
folks around me now can't begin to comprehend. Hunting is just a part of
the way of life in the country. Almost every creature does it. There are
ways to hunt with respect, and ways to go about it in a disrespectful and
downright dangerous way. I don't hunt, but I don't have anything against
those who do. When I did have to shoot a living creature out there, I made
sure to say a prayer and beg forgiveness of the creature after the fact. I
didn't feel good about it, but it had to be done.
Here in the city there are a lot of people with bumper stickers and
attitudes who don't get what hunting is about. And it's real hard to
convince them. I've tried, when it's come up in conversation, with no real
luck. I think you have to live there to get it. But deer (whose population
is exploding in an environment that didn't exist 200 years ago) need to be
controlled (far more are killed by cars in western NY state than by
hunters), and so do the Canadian geese, who've decided that life is so good
around here that they've stopped migrating (a pound of poop per day per
goose...we had two ponds...I let them stay around our stock pond but refused
to allow them around our swimming pond...gave my son license to annoy them
with a low-powered bb gun...pellets don't kill, but bounce off, and they get
the message).
OK, enough of this, I've made my points. Guess I've procreastinated enough
and now need to head down to the studio.

Richard Aerni
Rochester, NY