Alaska News

Nearly 2,000 reach out to Bean's Cafe

Good will and warm soup was overflowing at the Egan Convention Center on Saturday as live music filled the hall and some 1,900 colorful clay pots changed hands.

Close to 2,000 patrons attended the 15th Annual Empty Bowl Project, sponsored by the Anchorage Clay Arts Guild, which expected to raise more than $100,000 for Bean's Cafe, the North Anchorage soup kitchen.

Those in attendance who purchased an $18 ticket got to select a hand-made bowl to take home -- donated by the city's professional and amateur potters -- and receive helpings of soup and cornbread.

Some of the most attractive bowls were worth far more than the price of admission, said local potter Paul Laverty, who helped coordinate this year's event. But the cause, he said, was worth it.

"The other day at Bean's they had 400 people in for lunch, and they had to eat in shifts," Laverty said. "For whatever reason, people there are needing help."

This year the soup kitchen itself needs help, since it now receives less free food than it did in previous years from the Alaska Food Bank, said Bean's executive director Jim Crockett.

That's because the Food Bank reports receiving less waste food than before from Anchorage's largest grocery stores, which are trying to find ways to economize and waste less, Crockett said.

"So we're getting pretty well crunched."

In addition to pottery contributions by some 30 members of the clay arts guild, bowls were also donated this year by local college and grade-school students, as well potters at Elmendorf Air Force Base.

About 120 of the most ambitious pieces were auctioned off.

Some of them, like the delicate bird bowl and the long salmon plate by Anchorage clay artists Toni and Kirby Maury, received bids over $100.

A large "Vase with Three Patterns," by Anchorage clay artist Hilda Payne, topped $200.

"It's very creative," said Chu Cha Kim, who submitted the winning bid on the vase, with its elaborate sculpted pattern of earth and trees. "But it's also from the heart. It's helping."

Some of the more modest bowls -- stacked on tables near the door, where they were offered to ticket-holders -- were simple works of love by the city's very youngest potters, who decorated them in primary colors with fish and cats and crescent moons.

As the event drew to a close, only about 20 bowls and dishes remained, still waiting to be picked. And guild member Ernestine Sitkiewicz began offering them to late-comers at a two-for-one bargain.

"Actually they've very cute," Sitkiewicz said. "You could put your Brillo pad in something like that."

A man looking them over agreed -- and picked two small bowls, including the black cat with the extended tail. All for a very good cause.

Find George Bryson online at or call 257-4318.


George Bryson

George Bryson was a longtime writer and editor at the Anchorage Daily News.