Art for Change

by Pauline Nash

After lunch with friends at the Malott Commons, Andrea Wolf unlocked the ceramics studio door and, pulling her hair into a ponytail, sat down at her favorite wheel. She brushed aside the previous night’s remnants, dipped her fingers into a bucket of murky water, and began to shape a lump of clay. Ultimately, the lump would become one more bowl in 1,000 Bowls, her contribution to the Scripps College senior art exhibition,” Absence and Excess.”

Andrea labored into the evening as the studio clock ticked away the minutes, and then hours, until fatigue compelled her to take a break and connect with something other than the scores of bowls that surrounded her. Sitting in the Motley coffeehouse,Andrea soon found herself trying to assuage her mom who was concerned about her daughter’s relentless efforts.”I know you can do this,” her mother gently reminded her over the phone,”but why did you pick a thousand?” Back in her studio, well past midnight, Andrea wondered the same thing.

Over the course of the year, Andrea did create her target number of ceramic bowls. It was a labor-intensive project, which kept her in the studio for up to 10 or 12 hours a day. Often working alone, Andrea set out to address the tension between the isolated individual and the power of community. Using an immense collection of empty bowls as a paradoxical symbol for abundance and need, the artist offered her solution to a global problem: poverty.

On the opening night of the exhibition at Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Andrea watched as audience members contemplated the possible implications behind her yearlong vision: hundreds and hundreds of empty ivory and black glazed stoneware laid out on the exhibition floor in the shape of a diamond. The public was invited to take home a bowl in exchange for a suggested contribution of $10, which Andrea would direct to the charitable organization Freedom from Hunger.

Like many who had gone before him that evening, a man knelt down and reached for a crème brulee-toned tea bowl. His hand lingered over the collection as he considered his choice. After a minute he picked up another, a burnished ebony piece that had caught his eye. Satisfied with his favorites, he slid a crisp 20-dollar bill into the donation box.

All told, Andrea raised nearly $1,400 for Freedom from Hunger on opening night.”My understanding of the project changed. At first, it was just a win-win situation: I get to throw and I get to do some good. Now, I understand what I actually did. I created a micro-economy and put it toward other economies—it’s a circular thing.”

Andrea singled out Freedom from Hunger because of the organization’s innovative and sustainable self-help solutions that combat chronic hunger and poverty worldwide.The Davis, California-based not-for-profit organization empowers women with loans allocated for microbusiness development, business skills training, and vital health and nutritional education.This approach enables women with limited resources to become more self-sufficient.

Despite the long hours and stress involved, Andrea is anxious to start her next project. After 1,000 Bowls, she admits: “I can’t wait to throw something tall and slender—or big.”