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Kindness fills empty bowls at the Depot

Julie Zenner shows off some of the bowls created by herself and fellow artists at the Lincoln Park branch of the Duluth Art Institute. Zenner creates bowls in her free time. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)1 / 3
Hundreds of colorful, handmade ceramic bowls will be waiting to be filled with soup at Tuesday’s 21st Empty Bowl event at the Depot. Empty Bowl is an annual fundraiser which benefits Northern Lakes Second Harvest Food Bank. The bowls have been donated by local professional and amateur artists. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)2 / 3
Paul Shelerud glazes a pot in a spray booth at the Duluth Art Institute during open studio time. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)3 / 3

The Depot will be filled with hundreds of ceramic bowls for the 21st annual Empty Bowl on Monday and Tuesday. Volunteers have crafted an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 bowls over the past few months. The bowls will be sold to benefit the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank.

“Empty Bowl raises over $62,000 annually. Last year we were able to rescue and distribute 240,000 meals in our region due to funding from this event,” said the food bank’s executive director Shaye Moris.

The public is invited to enjoy soup, bread and beverages donated by local restaurants and purveyors free of charge. The bowls made by area artists, community members and students will be sold for $20 each.

But where do the 2,000-plus handcrafted vessels come from every year?

“The bowls are made by a variety of different groups — the Duluth Public Schools donated some, local artists, art clubs, church groups, and a few senior groups,” Moris said.

This year 180 of the bowls have been donated through the “Beers for Bowls” event in January. Artist and bar owner Barb Stevens of the North Pole Bar and Tonya Borgeson, owner of Snoodle Ceramic Studio, created a community activity for the neighborhood in close proximity of each other’s businesses. Bowl makers got a free beer after the completion of their first bowl and afterwards received discounted beers for every bowl made.

“We combined our resources,” Borgeson said. “Look for bowls at Empty Bowl with a polar bear image impressed into the clay.”

Borgeson is also an art instructor at Lake Superior College (LSC) where she also oversees the art club. Every year the LSC art club hosts the throw-a-thon. The community participates and this year they created about 350 bowls.

“It gives people a chance to try out working with clay and to donate their efforts to a great cause,” Borgeson said.

Then later in the spring the club holds the glaze-a-thon to decorate the bowls before they go back in the kiln to be fired a second time.

“We just finished the second firing of the bowls from the LSC kiln. We’re going to be making a big delivery very soon.”

LSC students aren’t the only ones still firing and collecting bowls to donate. Sheila Staubus, Duluth Art Institute’s ceramic studio manager says that artists will be coming in to make last minute pieces days before the event.

“From January to the event there’s always something going on at the Art Institute that has to do with Empty Bowl,” Staubus said. “A lot of people don’t realize the work that goes into a bowl. Especially how much time it takes.”

The studio has been open every Tuesday since January to allow individuals already familiar with ceramics a chance to shape their bowls, glaze them, and get them ready to be placed in the kiln.

In addition, Staubus has donated an intricately crafted ceramic vase to the online Empty Bowl auction that’s been open since March 25 and will continue through Wednesday, April 16.

Items include Staubus’ Green carved vase, Dave Lynas’ Tree Platter and the Bee Mandala Bowl by Karin Kraemer of Duluth Pottery. For more information on the online auction, visit

Want first pick of a bowl? Attend Sea of Bowls, the Empty Bowl preview event on Monday, April 14, 5-7 p.m. at the Depot. The event is free to attend, and bowls range in price from $25 to $100 at this gallery-style showing complete with refreshments.

If you go

What: 21st Annual Empty Bowl

Where: The Depot, 506 W. Michigan Street

When: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.Tuesday, April 15

Cost: Soup is free, $20 for bowl

What: Sea of Bowls Empty Bowl Preview Night

Where: The Depot, 506 West Michigan Street

When: 5-7 p.m. Monday, April 14

Cost: Free

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176