Elece Hempel isn’t remotely apologetic when she admits she snatched up just about every unglazed ceramic bowl in the Petaluma area. It was with good cause.
“There ain’t a white bisque bowl anywhere in Sonoma County,” quipped Hempel, Petaluma People Services Center’s executive director and the mastermind behind its 1,000 Petaluma Bowls fundraiser for nutrition services. “They call me the crazy bowl lady.”
Hempel laughed as she recounted three months of gathering bowls and lugging boxes of paintbrushes and colorful glazes to decorate them. The bowls will go up for auction Friday to help fund Meals on Wheels and Petaluma Bounty, programs that feed the hungry and educate people about nutrition and healthy eating.
Now in its fourth year, 1,000 Petaluma Bowls has exceeded Hempel’s goal. Several years ago she’d heard from a friend about a similar project in Seattle and had a hunch it could work in Petaluma.
“I really started to think, ‘How can I engage my community, too?’”
By inviting businesses, clubs, individuals and organizations to host painting parties, Hempel reasoned, everyone in the community could participate, transforming bowls of various shapes and sizes — for soup, cereal, or heaping mounds of ice cream — into decorative and useful works of art.
No artistic experience was required, only a willingness to help fight hunger in the community by spending a few hours with friends and colleagues, using creativity and kindness to collectively make a difference for others.
“They create an expression of their personality,” Hempel said of the bowl painters. Their designs include ladybugs and birds, flowers and trees, stars, moons, hearts and polka dots. There also are sailboats, squiggles, abstracts and animals of every kind.
Hempel, who attended the art sessions and used the opportunity to raise awareness about her agency’s hunger-fighting programs, noticed something unexpected.
“They paint what they’re wearing,” she said.
She saw bright colors from those sporting Hawaiian shirts, for example, repeated on their bowls. Others attired in softer palettes echoed their color preferences on their bowls, too.
No two bowls are alike; each is a unique, heartfelt work of art. Professional artists contributed their talents as well, providing a broad range of styles for the exhibit and auction.
The bowls represent a cross section of the community: local banks, churches and community service groups hosted gatherings. Members of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce showed their talents and support; the Petaluma Woman’s Club hosted an event at its historic clubhouse; small groups of friends gathered around dining room tables in private homes.
GHD, a global engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services firm with a Santa Rosa office, has hosted bowl-decorating sessions every year since the program’s inception.
Hempel said some businesses provide food and wine for employees, turning the art sessions into festive, team-building opportunities. Some firms cover all costs, even buying back their bowls as employee Christmas gifts.
Several times, it’s been a “friend of a friend who knew someone” who reached out to businesses to host sessions or make donations. In one case, Petaluma People Services Center ended up with a grant from the Chauncey and Marion D. McCormick Family Foundation to enhance and expand education programs for Petaluma Bounty.
1,000 Petaluma Bowls
What: More than 1,000 one-of-a-kind pottery bowls will be on exhibit, with auction bids starting at $20. Proceeds support local nutrition programs Petaluma Bounty and Meals on Wheels.
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday
Where: Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky St., Petaluma
Cost: $20, includes a soup luncheon with beverages.
Tickets: available at the door.
Details: call 707-765-8488 or go online to facebook.com/PPSCBowls/.