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PGLC Empty Bowls Fundraiser Celebrates 30 Years and Big Earnings

22 Feb 2023 2:44 PM | Cirrelda Snider-Bryan (Administrator)

NMPCA is lucky to have a sister organization in our state, The Potters Guild of Las Cruces (PGLC). We keep each other in mind; as examples, they recently donated to NMPCA Clay Forward fundraiser, and in 2021, a program run by some of their members, “Healing Wings,” received NMPCA’s Armstrong Grant. In addition to their biennial exhibit “Fire and Fiber,” and juried regional show, “From the Ground Up,” the Potters Guild’s program also includes an annual “Empty Bowl Fundraiser” which only partially got interrupted by the Covid Pandemic quarantines. 

After a tip from Leonard Baca, I reached out to Jan Archey, PGLC member, for more info about their very successful Empty Bowls' fundraising in 2022, which was their 30th year! In addition to answering some of my questions, she shared the report she wrote to her fellow PGLC members.

From Jan Archey to PGLC: "Empty Bowls XXX again was a great event with over $32,000 raised to support El Caldito, our local soup kitchen. As always, our event would not be successful if we did not have the support of El Caldito to handle the soup donations, kitchen, tickets and publicity for the event. We are thankful for St. Paul’s hosting Empty Bowls these past 30 years. Their generosity of space is truly a gift. For workdays, we thank Joshua Clark at NMSU for hosting workdays and firings, Peter Paulos of Las Cruces Clay & Studio for hosting workdays and bisque firings, and the DACC Ceramics Studio for the use of their studio for workdays, firing and glazing. Special thanks to Melissa Renfro overseeing the glazing and firing of the ^6 bowls. Bertha, the Guild’s monster electric kiln, performed perfectly. Certainly not last on the list are YOU the members who give so much! Your bowl donations, silent auction items, working the event…You all are AMAZING! We had 1650 beautiful bowls, maybe our most ever!!! We had an abundance of special priced items which brought in over $1000. This year we were gifted a collection of pottery items, some by nationally known ceramicists. These donations gave new energy to the Silent Auction. Having the auction online drew bids from out-of-town buyers and they were happy to be able to participate and support Empty Bowls. Through Cally Williams and Suzanne Kane’s expertise, the Silent Auction brought in an all-time high total of $6124.64, about $1000 more than the previous year. Mesilla Valley Estate Sales again donated their time and resources to the Silent Auction. This year, I called together a Steering Committee meeting to include key leads from the Guild as well as El Caldito. Empty Bowls has grown way too large to have just a few people in charge. Sadly, the need to feed the hungry has not lessened so we will march forward with new ideas for Empty Bowls 2023 and will implement a few changes in organization and add a few new fundraising events."

The Slip Trail had a few questions for Jan.

The Slip Trail (TST): Did the covid pandemic stop you all from conducting Empty Bowls fundraisers?  

Jan Archey: In 2020, we actually kept on making bowls. It was amazing how we gave people clay and they made bowls in their own studios and other members glazed and fired the bowls. (We extend our thanks to New Mexico Clay for donating clay for our event.  They have donated clay/supplies almost from the very beginning.) Some of us who have larger personal kilns fired many more firings than we usually do because the public studios were not open in 2020. When it came time for our event in Oct 2020, the governor changed the public restriction and we didn't know if we could even put on our event. Her mandate was to go into effect the Saturday after Empty Bowls. We were in a quandary about what to do. I actually called the Chief of Police, and after he quizzed me on our procedure, he said the police were too busy during the time of our three hour event and he doubted they would respond if there was a complaint!!! Empty Bowls continued even during the pandemic! Our plans were to set up tables outside, everyone had to be masked and gloved, and the tables with the bowls were spread out. People registered their name and contact info so if we had to get in touch with them regarding some exposure issue we could contact them.  

Sadly, hunger doesn't take a break and El Caldito was dependent on the funds we brought in. 

TST: How many years have you all topped $30K?

Jan Archey: In 2020 - no soup, just bowl sales - $18,756; 2021 - $34,400; 2022 - $32,540.

TST: How many folks spearhead the effort? Does the group change much? This past year we discovered we need to change our organizational plan to group leadership with different members in charge of the various aspects...bowl making days, glaze days, sorting bowls, silent auction, Guild ticket sales, t-shirt sales, day of the event set-up, new events at Empty Bowls to bring more interest and income, etc. etc.

Our leadership of Empty Bowls had some personal conflicts and many of us had to jump in at the last minute to make it successful. With some of our previous chairs, very little was left in the way of 'how to's' so we are in the process of making a procedure book on the how's, when's and who's. Cally Williams brought the concept of Empty Bowls back from an NCECA conference where she met John Hartom who introduced Empty Bowls in 1990 to his high school students in Bloomfield Hills, MI. (For more info: .)  Cally came back with the idea and it took us several years until we first pulled it off in 1993.

Below is the list of leads we had between the Guild and El Caldito for a Steering Committee that met several times before the event.  From all evals on this, it was good the people had a face to face and we will continue a steering committee for 2023.  The Guild will also have our own steering committee for our part of the Empty Bowls.

DAY OF EVENT POTTERS' GUILD CHAIR - changing this to several leads





GUILD TREASURER in charge of Guild ticket sales


GUILD MEMBER - FUNDRAISING EXPERTISE a new Guild member who will help spearhead some innovation new events for EB

GUILD MEMBER - EDUCATION OF NEED retired social worker who is passionate about food insecurities and education about




TST: El Caldito Soup Kitchen - how long have they been the recipients of the earnings? 

Jan Archey: Since the beginning. The success of our Empty Bowls over the last 30 years has been in my opinion

1) the size of Las Cruces. People can get to St. Paul's United Methodist Church in under 20 minutes.

2) we have not changed sites in the 30 years and we always have it on a Friday in October. St. Paul's is proud to host the event and people have come to expect it.

3) we expect El Caldito to participate in putting Empty Bowls on. They get the soups, do the food serving part and clean-up, do the publicity and handle the tickets. We are only in charge of providing bowls and working that part of the event and the Silent Auction. The Guild also promotes the event and sells tickets. In our opinion, if they are going to be the benefactors of the proceeds, they need to be a vital part of the event. Some years they are better than others and on one occasion we had to remind them that we could choose another organization to receive the proceeds. 

Because the three agencies work together on Empty Bowls, I truly think that is what makes Empty Bowls the successful event it is.

The piece that is probably lacking is education on why we have to do Empty Bowls every year. We are working on that to bring facts to our patrons, to help them understand it isn't just a cool event, but their participation may be the act between someone having a meal or going to bed hungry. El Caldito does a bang-up job in using surplus food from different stores and from farmers. There is a team of gleaners who make weekly rounds picking up food.  Even the waste is picked up by farmers to feed livestock.  I'm really proud to be a part of this organization as well.

---end of interview--- 

You can read more info on the PGLC website:

Empty Bowls elsewhere in New Mexico

From around 2017 through 2020, Vicki Bolen, Albuquerque artist, held an Empty Bowls-type event, called “Soup is Love,” with proceeds going to Offcenter Community Arts Project, making and donating from her studio “Little Bird de Papel” at Mountain Road and 12th street. According to sponsor Brant Palley / New Mexico Clay, Albuquerque had a very successful run from 1999-2017, with NMPCA members Elaine Biery and Michael Thornton taking leadership roles for a good amount of those years, along with Claire Lissance and others. 

Now in 2023, here in the middle and northern parts of our state, a student of pottery at CNM’s westside campus, Fay Chazin-Seidelman, has taken the baton to raise interest in holding the fundraiser again. If you are interested in helping revive Empty Bowls in Central NM, email her at or text her at 914-439-5778. 

We call ourselves the NMPCA!