Two little girls stared at Emily McPeters ’18, who was barefoot, her hair tucked into a colorful scarf, a pale gray coating covering her arms to her elbows.
“You’re going to be covered in it by the end of this,” McPeters promised, flexing her dirty fingers.
Working on a patio outside Furman University’s Roe Art Building, 8-year-old Paris and 7-year-old Jerrika dug into the clay themselves, smoothing rope after rope into a mold with McPeters’s help.
“These bowls are gonna look nice,” Jerrika said, dipping her fingers in water and running them across the rim of her bowl.
McPeters and another half dozen studio art students have been working with children from Greenville’s Frazee Center to create works of art that will be sold by silent auction as part of Rock Out Hunger, the annual benefit concert for Loaves & Fishes. The Empty Bowls auction is designed to create awareness of childhood hunger.
Tessa May, development coordinator for Loaves & Fishes, said the project works on multiple levels. The bowls are paired with photos of their young artists as well as a statement of what each child would put in another child’s empty bowl. Past examples: Cocoa Puffs to fill one bowl and brownies and carrots to fill another.
“Guests really get an opportunity to get a feel for the issues of childhood hunger,” May said.
Individual bowls have sold for as much as $60. The whole auction typically raises $500 to $550.
The money goes directly to Loaves & Fishes’ work to rescue food from grocery stores, restaurants, and caterers and deliver it to 102 local agencies, including the Frazee Center. The bowls end up on shelves and desks where they continue to draw attention.
“They just become a conversation piece as well as a beloved art piece,” May said.
And the children who participate know that they have helped address a real problem.
The event gives them “the opportunity to feel as if they’re part of the solution and that they can make a difference in the lives of people who are hungry,” May said.
This is the fourth year Rock Out Hunger will include an Empty Bowls auction. But it’s the first time Furman students have been involved. One year, the children went to a local studio to make their bowls. Twice, a potter came to the center to work with them.
The partnership with Furman adds another layer of benefit for the younger children, May said, as they visit the campus, connect with college students and maybe get a vision for their own potential.
Ross McClain, an associate professor of art and chair of Furman’s art department, said this is just the kind of partnership his department wants to cultivate.
“I think Furman should be more engaged with the community,” McClain said. “I don’t think we should be an ivory tower on the edge of town . . . When that opportunity came, we immediately jumped on it.”
The week in between shaping the bowls and glazing them gave his students a chance to evaluate their own instruction and adjust their methods.
“It’s one thing to do it and it’s another thing to teach it,” he said.
He wants his students to be both teachers and role models, perhaps introducing the possibility of a future the younger students hadn’t considered before.
“Having them [on campus] is building confidence and inspiration,” McClain said.
Connie Dimick ’17 showed her group how to use a fork to mark the smooth surface of the clay before adding another rope layer.
“This is to help it work like Velcro,” she said.
She watched as the younger girls rolled their ropes of clay on the table.
“The coils don’t have to be perfect because you’re going to blend them together,” she said.
Dashyia, an 8-year-old artist, made a bowl for last year’s auction, too. She worked confidently under the eye of Jack Goode ’18.
“It’s very fun when you get to make it because you get to play with clay,” she said. “You just have to pay attention and that’s how you get a perfect bowl.”
This is exactly the kind of community engagement McClain is hoping for.
“I hope what happens is that people will come to us … looking for us to help in a collaborative way,” he said.
Rock Out Hunger Event Details
The Empty Bowls auction is part of a larger annual benefit concert for Loaves & Fishes. Rock Out Hunger, and the Empty Bowls silent auction, will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Sept. 29 at Fluor Field. Tickets are $20 for the concert or $35 for the concert plus the South Carolina Craft Spirit Tasting. Tickets are available online at loavesandfishesgreenville.com.