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Filled With Love

ceramics student ensures Stepping Stones event won’t come up empty

Barbara Lyon, photos by Barbara Lyon

KEEP ON BOWLIN’. Sarah Bennett fashions a bowl at the potter’s wheel in her UW-Stout studio. Despite her apparent ease and grace, she points out, “It took me years and years of practice to get to this point!”
KEEP ON BOWLIN’. Sarah Bennett fashions a bowl at the potter’s wheel in her UW-Stout studio. Despite her apparent ease and grace, she points out, “It took me years and years of practice to get to this point!”

One glance at Sarah Bennett’s footgear shows where she’s been and what she’s been doing. Her comfortable black sneakers are “decorated” with splashes of the pale gray clay she used to create unique, undulating sculptures for her senior art show. She’s also spent the fall semester throwing dozens of bowls on the potter’s wheel in a second-floor studio in the Applied Arts building at UW-Stout.

“We live in a time where so much of the stuff in the world is pre-produced and manufactured … I want to make things that people will use over and over again ...” – Sarah Bennett

After they’re glazed and fired, Bennett’s bowls of various styles and colors will be among a collection of many others from which to choose during Stepping Stones’ annual Empty Bowls fundraiser on Saturday, March 2, in Menomonie.

Throughout the Menomonie community, a wide variety of artists contribute to the effort – from professional potters and wood turners to high school students along with the elementary students who sometimes provide their decorating skills. UW-Stout’s Ceramics Club is also donating bowls to the cause which supports Stepping Stones’ local food pantry, homeless shelters, and community outreach programs.

“For one of my classes, I need to do a field experience – real world experience that pertains to art making,” Bennett said.

Bennett knew she’d found the perfect project during a summer ceramics class last year taught by Professor Geof Wheeler. He told her that Stepping Stones had reached out to him in previous years about having UW-Stout students donate bowls for the popular event.

“It’s been just wonderful to get back into pottery with the bowls I’ve been making. I’ve been spending so much time in sculpture lately,” Bennett said, noting that the two processes are very different. “It’s very relaxed, especially during this time of year at school.”

She estimates that between her contributions and those of the university’s Ceramics Club, the total output of “empty bowls” will come in at between 80 and 100 for this year’s event.

At the end of her sophomore year, Bennett rediscovered a passion for ceramics that was originally kindled during her high school years: “I really fell in love with it then, but it really wasn’t something I thought about pursuing as a career until I took ceramics here at Stout.”

At the suggestion of Wheeler – who has since served as her mentor – the arts education major added a major in ceramics. This spring, the senior will be heading to Ellsworth as a student teacher before graduating from UW-Stout in May. Her initial plan is to teach high school art, but she would eventually like to pursue a master’s in fine arts and teach at the college level.

However, Bennett will always have fond memories of using her pottery skills to contribute to the community she says she fell in love with immediately when she came to tour the campus on the recommendation of her high school art teacher back home in the village of McFarland. 

“I’m really interested in making things that people are really going to value,” Bennett said about the bowl-making project and making art in general. “We live in a time where so much of the stuff in the world is pre-produced and manufactured. … I want to make things that people will use over and over again and show off to their friends – and make them think about the art that exists in their lives.”

Empty Bowls

Two Empty Bowls events will be held in the Chippewa Valley in early March, both benefiting charitable groups that fight food insecurity in the region:

Empty Bowls (benefiting Stepping Stones in Menomonie) • Saturday, March 2, 11am-2pm • Menomonie High School Commons, 1715 Fifth St. West, Menomonie • Tickets: $15 in advance (at Stepping Stones, 1602 Stout Road, Menomonie) or $17 at the door for a choice of soups, bread, and dessert along with a complimentary bowl • Meal only tickets are $5 in advance or $7 at the door • Children under 5 eat free • steppingstonesdc.org

Empty Bowls (benefitting Feed My People Food Bank in Eau Claire) • Thursday, March 7, 11am-7pm • The Florian Gardens, 2340 Lorch Ave., Eau Claire • Cost: Bowl and soup meal $20; soup meal only $8; kids 10 and under free • fmpfoodbank.org