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  • MANNY CRISOSTOMO / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

    With Saturday's special exhibit at CSUS fast approaching, Christopher Thompson works Monday on hand-making one of the 40 or so ceramic bowls he must still complete to reach 1,000.

  • MANNY CRISOSTOMO / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

    Christopher Thompson, shown above and at left working Monday at California State University, Sacramento, says that sales of his 1,000 bowls could translate to $400,000 worth of food for three local charities.

  • MANNY CRISOSTOMO / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

    Making and selling one thousand bowls. That's how ceramic artist Christopher Thompson hopes to make a difference in feeding the hungry.

Sacramento artist takes on hunger with 1,000 bowls

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013 - 12:54 pm

Making and selling one thousand bowls.

That's how ceramic artist Christopher Thompson hopes to make a difference in feeding the hungry.

"Maybe it's ironic to make a feast bowl to talk about hunger," said Thompson, 52, of Sacramento. "But I wanted to make a bowl big enough to feed a family."

For the past 18 months, Thompson, a former U.S. Air Force sergeant, computer consultant and publishing entrepreneur, has been busy at the potter's wheel, making 1,000 bowls, ranging from 10 to 20 inches in diameter.

He plans to sell the brightly colored bowls with unusual patterned glazes at 12 galleries and other venues next month. Prices range from $50 to $100, compared with the $250 to $350 Thompson normally charges.

The expected proceeds – about $50,000 – will go to three charities: Meals on Wheels, Loaves and Fishes, and Senior Gleaners.

This Saturday, all of his creations will be on display for a special exhibit at California State University, Sacramento's Alumni Center, 6000 J St., from noon until 5 p.m. The reception will start at 4 p.m., and the bowls are available for pre-sale.

"It should be a big deal," said Thompson, who, as of Monday, still had 40 bowls to finish firing before the show.

After the exhibit, the bowls will be distributed to 10 art galleries, a church and a frame shop in Northern California for sale for the month of July. The public can check them out at Sacramento's Second Saturday or Lodi's First Friday.

The "1,000 Bowls to Feed the Hungry" effort started as a master's project for Thompson, who was working on a degree in studio arts at Sacramento State the past two years.

"They (the instructors) said, 'You have great range, but can you demonstrate focus? Can you take a form and perfect it?' " he recalled.

A master's project also would need to be "something bigger than yourself," was the advice Thompson received.

At the time, Thompson had been participating in a charitable effort called "The Empty Bowls Project" in which ceramic artists and potters would gather once a month and create bowls.

But Thompson didn't want the project to be just be about him. "If I can get 300 people to collaborate with me, it would give the project a louder voice," he said. "It makes people think" about the hunger issue.

Thompson got approval to proceed with the bowl project for the spring 2011 semester. He managed to finish 300 bowls by the end of the semester before he was told that "it was too big in scope" for the master's project.

"I was disheartened, and I went into a three-day depression," he said.

But afterward, he decided he would continue with the project on his own, and create something else – 40 copper and ceramic vessels and sculptures – for his master's degree.

"I would use the 300 bowls for an intensive glaze study, and I would shut up about the bowl project," Thompson said.

Working on the 40 copper and ceramic pieces took a long time. Each metal/ceramic piece took 60 days to complete. During his down time, he continued to work on the "1,000 Bowls to Feed the Hungry."

In the meantime, he asked various galleries to hold what he called "collaborations" in which artists and non-artists could help glaze the inside of the bowls. To date, he has held 16 such events with a dozen galleries, with 565 bowls worked on by others. The remainder, 435 bowls, he did on his own.

Carol Brewer, owner of the Blue Moon Gallery, hosted two such collaborations for Thompson at her space.

"He's definitely an idea person," she said. "I love being part of something that would help other people."

She estimates that 75 people attended and 80 bowls were glazed at the two gatherings at her gallery. Brewer said she and her husband both worked on Thompson's bowls at another glazing party in Marysville.

"I did two – the first one was practice," she joked.

"It isn't the prettiest, but it turned out really funny. The center had a blue moon, but I didn't plan it. We're going to buy our bowls. They're like heirlooms. I covet it."

Under the arrangement with Thompson, all the galleries that are selling the bowls will take a 25 percent cut from the proceeds – about half of what most galleries would charge as commission.

Thompson would like to be compensated for the cost of the clay and porcelain he used to create the bowls, but the rest of the money generated from the sales would be evenly split among the three charities.

Not all the venues that will be selling Thompson's bowls are art galleries.

"I think it's awesome," said Julie McKinley, owner of McKinley's Frame Shop in Lodi.

"I think it's a great idea. With so many homeless people in Sacramento and Lodi, if it is a way to help a homeless person move forward in life, I'm absolutely willing to support it."

She plans to have 50 of Thompson's bowls in her shop, which also sells stained glass, jewelry, glass art, candles and photographs.

Thompson said he was more than willing to have different venues sell his works.

"A friend told me that $1 can buy $8 worth of food," said he said. "If all of my bowls sell, that means that they (the charities) can buy $400,000 worth of food. That should go a long way toward addressing the issue of hunger in Sacramento."

Call The Bee's Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Tillie Fong



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