Story by Lynn Cook
Photo by Olivier Koning
“It took only two hours to sell seven hundred bowls of soup!” exclaims Jere Matsumoto. He’s the dynamo dreamer behind the Hawaii Potters’ Guild Empty Bowl Project, a one-night benefit to raise money to feed the needy. Based on similar Empty Bowl events on the Mainland, the concept is simple: Ceramic artists create handmade bowls. Chefs make the soup. “Then folks pay just $20, eat the gourmet soup and take the lovely bowl home,” Matsumoto says. Honolulu’s first Empty Bowl Project two years ago exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, raising $11,899 for the Hawaii Foodbank. “We couldn’t ladle the soup up fast enough,” Matsumoto says.
The event went so well that the guild is at it again, but this time they’re going big. On March 18, during the Slow Art Friday event in Honolulu’s Chinatown, twenty of Hawai‘i’s top chefs will fill three thousand bowls with soup.
It’s taken the guild two years to make the bowls—with a little help from friends, says Matsumoto. Dozens of Hawai‘i potters have thrown bowls. College ceramics programs, seniors’ craft programs, Boys and Girls Club members, Palama Settlement residents, elementary school children and kids from Kamehameha and Punahou schools have all been making bowls for the past year.
It’s not only local potters who are throwing for the big night. Noted Los Angeles potter Xavier Gonzales heard about the project while conducting a workshop in Hawai‘i, and he returned to Honolulu to throw five hundred bowls. Then there was a “throwa-thon” where ten experienced potters faced off and created 750 bowls in two hours; glazing and firing took another two months. The guild has also invited twenty of Hawai‘i’s leading artists to create signature bowls for a silent auction at the ARTS at Marks Garage.
The goal for the one-night soup kitchen is $60,000, with proceeds to be split between Hawaii Meals on Wheels, which serves four hundred daily meals to the homebound, and the River of Life Mission, which serves over 15,000 meals a month in Chinatown.