Frederick Bartolovic and his ceramics students are changing lives through art
When Frederick Bartolovic took the position as a ceramics professor at Marshall University, he had no idea what kind of impact the position would have on him, his students or the Huntington community.
Empty Bowls is a national movement by ceramists around the country in which each event is individually organized. Huntington Empty Bowls, now in its 20th year, is organized by Bartolovic, who has been involved since he began teaching at Marshall in 2011.
“Since that time, I have acted as the primary coordinator of the event, which allows me to both direct students who are interested and connect in various ways with community partners who have assisted and benefited from the event,” Bartolovic said.
He says his most memorable moment from his first Huntington Empty Bowls event was the realization of how much community support there was for the event.
“We had a line of people out the door and around the corner,” Bartolovic said. “It was really awe inspiring. We also had President Stephen Kopp volunteer his time serving drinks to patrons of the event. It was a humble but poignant gesture that really left a positive impression on me.”
In 2013, he transformed two pottery classes, ART 343 and ART 446, into community-based learning (CBL) courses, which helped to strengthen the ties between Marshall’s School of Art and Design and the Facing Hunger Foodbank. Because of this change, students gain insights into the foodbank through meetings and volunteer hours, helping them understand the organization and its importance to the community.
“It is always interesting to watch the development of their skill on the pottery wheel in conjunction with their awareness of how big of an impact they are directly making towards fighting hunger with the production of each bowl they produce.”
The food bank can create nine meals for every dollar they receive. During Huntington’s Empty Bowls events, each bowl is sold for $20. That translates to 180 meals per bowl.
“When students realize each of their bowls will generate 180 meals, they are often in awe! This for me is the most rewarding aspect of the event; when young artists realize how quickly they can make a direct and substantial impact on the community, that is what makes all the work worthwhile,” Bartolovic said.
“Art can change lives, and Empty Bowls is an easy and quick way to demonstrate that. Don’t get me wrong — the event takes tons of planning and countless hours in the studio working at the wheel, but the payoff is immediate compared to how some artists have work a lifetime to feel like they have made an impact.”
Each year, students are asked to produce 25 or 40 bowls, depending on which class they are enrolled in. In addition, to the students’ work, bowls are donated through local schools, community artists, and an annual open studio day that invites program alumni, local potters, and special guests to throw bowls for the event.
“Those days are probably some of my best memories from Empty Bowls as we have had past presidents from Marshall come down to the studio and I have had the pleasure of helping them to throw a handmade bowl on the pottery wheel.”
Bartolovic estimates close to 15,000 bowls have been created for Huntington’s Empty Bowls over the past 20 years. He says that because the buying power of the foodbank fluctuates, it is difficult to know exactly how many meals the event has provided.
“I can say with confidence though that Empty Bowls here in Huntington has generated over a million meals over the last 20 years, and probably nearer to 1.5 million.
“Being part of this endeavor is really important to me, but whenever the spotlight is cast on me, I really like to turn it back onto the students who truly are the backbone of this event. If it weren’t for the art students interested in ceramics, this event would not exist.”
He says it’s the students’ dedication, skill, fortitude and drive that make this event possible.
“Every year, I find myself being incredibly proud of each one of them and grateful that they are here, encompassing that innate human characteristic of creativity and the desire to create art.”
The Marshall University School of Art and Design will host Huntington’s 20th Annual Empty Bowls event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, April 21, under the gazebo at Pullman Square. Bowls handcrafted by Bartolovic’s students will be available for purchase, with proceeds benefiting the Facing Hunger Foodbank.