Cullman Potters Make Empty Bowls Go Round

by | Feb 20, 2017 | Breaking News, Community, County News, Cullman, Interviews, People, Winston

Cullman Potters Make Empty Bowls Go Round

The 14th Annual Empty Bowls of Cullman County Chili Dinner will be held on Monday, February 20 from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm at the Cullman First United Methodist Church (FUMC).

This Cullman tradition would not be possible without the imagination, focus, and efforts of several dozen volunteers. Perhaps the most important group of volunteers are the potters.

A group of six Cullman area potters begins making handcrafted chili bowls immediately after the Empty Bowls event ends every year. This amazing team of potters made 1,200 beautifully designed bowls for this year’s event:

★ Lynn Jetton – Potter-in-Chief
★ Sandra Abbott
★ Wes Abbott
★ Patti Bostick
★ Sandra Heaven
★ Sister Adrian McLean
★ Barbara Stark

Cullman Potters Make Empty Bowls Go Round

The Empty Bowls Making Process

Approximately 1,600 pounds of clay was required to make this year’s 1,200 bowls. Lynn Jetton travels to Florence at least twice per year for loads of clay from Trinity Ceramics for the team to use in this effort.

The team of experienced potters uses high-fire stoneware clay which makes for the most durable pots (potters refer most everything they make as a “pot”, whether it is a bowl, vase, pitcher, mug, etc.).

The bowls are then glazed to a temperature of 2,250 degrees. A “Green Egg” is lined inside with fire brick and looks like a miniature version of the inside of a kiln, except, of course, that a kiln floor is flat and walls are straight.

The process of turning raw clay into a completed glazed bowl takes around 2 weeks.

The creation of the clay bowl itself only takes 5 or 6 minutes (it can take longer on more sophisticated designs). Next, the potters must allow the creation to partially dry and then trim the bowl to its final shape.

The next stage of the process requires the bowl to become ‘bone dry’.

Cullman Potters Make Empty Bowls Go Round

The evaporation of as much water as possible is critical since the potters want the smallest amount of remaining fluid to evaporate BEFORE the firing temperature gets much above 212°. If this vital evaporation step is not correctly accomplished, the excess remaining water will boil and cause the clay piece to explode.

Bringing the clay to ‘bone dry’ status is very dependent upon the humidity level in the clay-making studio. Sandra utilizes a ‘hot box’ which accelerates the process; it is a closet lined with styrofoam board insulation. She puts the clays pieces in the ‘hot box’, turns on a small heater with a fan, and heats up the box.

A closet full of chili/soup bowls can fully dry within about 24 hours. Larger pieces have to dry more slowly or they are subject to cracking.

Next, comes the famous ‘firing’ step. This is done in two stages. The first stage is called the ‘Bisque Fire’. The clay piece is fired to between 1,600 and 1,800 degrees. Firing and cooling down take 12 to 24 hours. At this point, the piece is firm, yet still porous. It can be dipped into a liquid glaze, painted, or otherwise decorated. Once accomplished, the second firing turns up the heat to 2,250 degrees.

After another fully cooling session, the clay piece is finished.

Cullman Potters Make Empty Bowls Go Round

The Empty Bowls Potters

Sister Adrian, Sandra, and Wes were the ‘original potters’ at the first ever Empty Bowls of Cullman County back in 2003. Sandra Heaven was the art director at Wallace State Community College when Empty Bowls Founder Tanya Shearer got in touch with her about making bowls.

“The first year I think they made around 400 bowls and were surprised at the response. Ran out of bowls, ran out of chili!”, says Lynn Jetton.

Lynn Jetton joined in 2005; she became the “potter-in-chief” for the Empty Bowls Committee that same year. The next year, they made 800 bowls. Demand soon raised the necessary total to 1,000 a year. In 2013, the decision was made that 1,200 bowls were needed to make sure they didn’t run out.

According to Lynn: “We sell more bowls than we do meals. Some people just want to contribute to the fundraiser, and/or just want a bowl.”

Sister Adrian and Patti Bostick both have their own studios. They team up to make 200 bowls each year.

Barbara Stark is from Decatur. She was a student at Wallace State and still goes to Sandra’s pottery studio at Meek High School in Arley, AL. She helps teach high school pottery students. She has a studio at her home.

Sandra Heaven lives in Arley, AL. She has worked with the Winston County Art Council for a number of years. She is in charge of bowl making for an Empty Bowls fundraiser held in Double Springs each October.

In exchange for teaching students who want a humanities course for their advanced high school degree, Meek High School allowed Sandra and the Art Council to remodel the old field house into a pottery studio. They now use it for extracurricular activities like Empty Bowls for Cullman and Winston Counties.

In closing Lynn Jetton had these thoughts:

“Empty Bowls is a great event for the community. The committee members work extremely hard to make all this possible. All the potters offer many thanks especially to Tanya Shearer, who is the committee head. As you can well imagine, does a tremendous amount of work making sure everything goes right and doing many things on her own without help. Also, Bobby Nolan is to be congratulated not only for planning and overseeing cooking the chili and grilled cheese sandwiches, but also for the tremendous number of donations he personally obtains from many businesses.

Everyone on the committee contributes to the success of the supper; it couldn’t be done without all the members pulling together.”

Are you a potter interested in joining the Empty Bowls Team?

Contact:

Lynn Jetton
P.O. Box 367
Holly Pond, AL 35083
thejet@aol.com

Main Image: (pictured from left-to-right): Barbara Stark, Sister Adrian McLean, Patti Bostick, Lynn Jetton, Sandra Heaven, Wes Abbott

Middle Image: Sandra Abbott in her studio

 

Cullman Potters Make Empty Bowls Go Round
Cullman Potters Make Empty Bowls Go Round
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Timothy Collins

Originally from Asheville, NC, Timothy brings an insightful holistic perspective as well as a mountain man tenacity to his various roles at Cullman Today. You can reach him at cullmantoday@gmail.com and/or (256) 615-8260.

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