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Bowls, Bowls, Bowls: An Eating Tradition Becomes Community Art


By: Pamolu Oldham 

Sue Parker Byrd takes a break after breakfast and cleanup on a typical Tuesday morning at Operation Inasmuch, an organization that feeds breakfast to 80 to 100 of our community every weekday. The staff and volunteers serve family members who arrived hungry—for eggs, sausage, grits, coffee and hot chocolate. This morning I was the “grit girl.”  

The breakfast hall flows with conversation, genuine eye-to-eye, thank-you’s and the sweet aromas of breakfast. The soulful keyboard and voice of Giles Blankenship, a pastor from Snyder Baptist Church, sounds as he plays “Lean on Me” and “Leaning on The Everlasting Arms,” everybody hoping he never stops.  

I'm here to talk to Sue about how the family members at Inasmuch help create the vessels for the Bread 'n Bowls event. She can barely stay in her seat telling me about the annual fundraiser, because, of course, she is hugging, waving goodbye and sending folks into their day.  

There’s something about bowls that’s essential and symbolic to eating and to this event. On the fourth Friday in February, Bread 'n Bowls raises funds to help feed the hungry in our community. Clay bowls, donated by artists at Cape Fear Studios, Greg’s Art Pottery & Gifts and Green Springs Pottery, are purchased and filled with Brunswick stew or chili at Hay Street Methodist Church.  

Family members at Operation Inasmuch help glaze the donated pottery before the final firing at Greg's Art Pottery & Gifts. “Our folks love to see somebody buy their bowl,” Sue says. “'That’s my bowl!' 'They chose mine!' They’re so proud. To know somebody picked theirs above all the others—they realize another sees something ‘in them.’” 

 Tim McMillan of Green Springs Pottery, located outside Parkton, talks about the importance of “centering” when he begins to throw a pot. The centering of a bowl is at the heart of community—radiating love and focus. 

“It’s the first step after the air bubbles and debris have been kneaded out and the clay put through the pug mill,” Tim says. Senior Pastor Rev. Rob James at First Baptist Church says centering a pot is critical. “You have to wet your hands, ease out the wobbles. If it’s off-center, the problems only get worse and it slings onto the wall or falls in on itself.” But a centered pot can withstand the fire of the kiln, and a centered community can withstand “all those adversities we meet.”  

M.C. Richards, author of the book Centering: in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, writes, “Centering: that act which precedes all others on the potter’s wheel. The bringing of the clay into a spinning, unwobbling pivot, which will then be free to take innumerable shapes as potter and clay press against each other…. It is like a handclasp between two living hands, receiving the greeting at the very moment that they give it. It is the speech between the hand and the clay that makes me think of dialogue.” 

Dialogue, the beginning of connection; connection, the beginning of community.   

Now in its tenth year, Bread ‘n Bowls is a reflection of our community. Many come year after year—seeing old friends and meeting new ones, checking out the pottery and giving back. 

At Cape Fear Studios, Nancy Edge, Jill Dieffenbach and Guy Jenks will throw, glaze and fire at least fifty pots for Bread ‘n Bowls. Kelly Hathaway assumed responsibility for her busy father Greg Hathaway of Greg's Art Pottery & Gifts, who has supplied hundreds of bowls over the years. 

I met Tim McMillan of Green Springs Pottery where students and friends will throw, fire and glaze the bowls. It’s a hot August afternoon. His garage studio is large and airy. “Come on in.” The shelves are lined with pots. He takes time to explain the bare raku process and the dark trailing lines on some of his pieces. He then eases his wheel to “bring up” the sides of a large bowl and trim its edges. He mentions centering and the need to keep the bowl from falling in on itself or getting “out-of-round.” 

 Sue reiterates the vision statement of Inasmuch: “to walk among the broken and struggling, being the hands and feet of Jesus.” In addition to breakfast, Inasmuch conducts educational workshops and serves as a liaison with barbers, medical and veteran-related service professionals. It is a welcoming smile, a hug, an ear, a tube of toothpaste, a prayer—a sanctuary out of the cold, rain or the summer's blistering heat. It is a knowledge of belonging—a family and a community that embraces.  

Will Ruggles and Fayetteville native Douglass Rankin, both internationally-acclaimed potters say, “For us, the best pots come out of the interaction between maker, materials and process. In the transformation from raw clay to finished pots, respecting and loving each component allows its character to participate in the outcome. This strengthens the pot with honesty, while tempering the imposition of too much ‘me.’”     

As Inasmuch manages maker, materials and process, they will open a new 40-man sleeping facility across the street in December—just in time for this winter's upcoming cold weather.  

 Philip Gerard in his article on Mark Hewitt, a native of England now making pots at Hewitt Pottery in Pittsboro writes, “There’s something wonderfully elemental about the whole process, a connection to our ancestral quest to create community, to share food and drink, to come out of the caves and into the light.” 

Mark your calendar for February's Fourth Friday Bread 'n Bowls event. Enjoy a hot bowl of Brunswick stew. Meet your neighbors. Take home a handmade bowl. Support the artists and the cause. Take part in our “centering,” the affirmation of our community as we come back into the light.