Over 1,500 Bowls Are Being Turned Out to Benefit the Houston Food Bank

The 13th annual Empty Bowls luncheon raises funds and awareness to fight hunger in Houston.

By Katharine Shilcutt May 12, 2017

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Over 1,500 locally-made bowls—including both ceramic and wooden vessels—will be sold at the 13th annual Empty Bowls luncheon on June 3 to raise money for the Houston Food Bank.

If all goes to plan, the members of the Gulf Coast Woodturners Association will be donating 250 carved wooden bowls to the upcoming Empty Bowls event on June 3. Now in its 13th year, the annual luncheon raises money for the Houston Food Bank through the purchase of bowls—each crafted by a Houston artist from a variety of different materials, not just wood—and a serving of soup donated by Whole Foods Market. But soup isn't the only important donation that goes into each Empty Bowls event.

"We get a lot of wood donated by various places," says Thomas Irven, a wood turner and artist who's donated pieces to Empty Bowls for the last four years. "As most people don't understand yet," he chuckles, "wood does cost money." From the series of "bowl blanks" donated by various wood shops across Houston, Irven and his colleagues in the Gulf Coast Woodturners Association—one of the nation's largest and most robust chapters—create bowls of every shape, size and finish. Each bowl is then "sold" for $25 at Empty Bowls, filled with soup, and later taken home to serve as either an art piece or functional dish; it all depends on the person who purchases it.

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Wood turner Thomas Irven is one of the Archway Gallery artists donating higher-end bowls for the gallery's silent auction this weekend, Saturday, May 13, to benefit Empty Bowls.

This year, in addition to wood turning demonstrations outside the Empty Bowls luncheon at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft in June, Irven and his fellow artists in residence at the Archway Gallery will host a silent auction on Saturday, May 13 from 5 to 8 p.m. for those interested in the more artistic side of bowls. It will be the fourth year for the Archway Gallery invitational, which encourages its artists to get creative with their bowls. "Most of them are ceramic, but some are made out of paper, wood, fused glass—we even have one made out of leather gloves," says Irven.

"And it's not all 3-D; there's some 2-D work too," Irven adds. "We have a mixture of actual bowl pieces and figurative bowl work." Starting bids for the pieces, which also include work from Andy and Virginia Bally and Gene Hester, range from $30 to $300.

After the auction, Irven and his fellow wood turners will be cranking their lathes into high gear to finish the rest of their bowls in time for the big Empty Bowls luncheon itself, which has raised $745,685 for the Houston Food Bank since its inception—the equivalent of 2,237,054 meals for hungry Houstonians. Irven, who's worked with wood since 1982, has his favorites for bowl-making: "Mesquite is very stable and consistent in its grain pattern, so it's a really nice wood to turn. Mahogany is a very stable wood; so is maple." 

Regardless of their starting material, says, Irven, he and his fellow wood turners will be turning out bowls you may want to purchase in bulk—and with over 1,500 donated bowls of all materials, each one helping the Houston Food Bank serve 75 meals, buying several at once is encouraged. "The quality of work is really good," says Irven. "These wood turners are very good."

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Wood turning and ceramic pottery demonstrations will take place outside the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft at the 13th annual Empty Bowls luncheon on June 3.

How else to help Empty Bowls and the Houston Food Bank:

Archway Gallery's Empty Bowls Houston Invitational Exhibition & Silent Auction
Saturday, May 13 from 5–8 p.m.
Archway Gallery, 2305 Dunlavy St.

Whole Foods Promotional Day
Saturday, May 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Enjoy live artist demonstrations and purchase locally crafted bowls for sale at seven Whole Foods locations: 4004 Bellaire Blvd.; 2955 Kirby Dr.; 701 Waugh Dr.; 11041 Westheimer; 1407 S. Voss Rd.; 1700 Post Oak Blvd.; and 10133 Louetta Rd. in Champions.

Empty Bowls Houston Preview Party
Friday, June 2 from 6–8 p.m.
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main St.

For $50, you'll receive light bites, beer and wine, and the first opportunity to purchase an Empty Bowl. Tickets can be purchased online.

13th Annual Empty Bowls Houston
Saturday, June 3 from 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

For a minimum $25 donation, you'll choose a bowl from 1,500 one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted bowls donated by Houston area ceramists and other craft artists, then receive a lunch of soup donated by Whole Foods Market and prepared by Houston Food Bank Community Kitchen. Additionally, pottery and woodturning demonstrations and live music will be featured.

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