Corcoran’s Empty Bowls Project Helps Feed the Hungry

More than 500 ceramic bowls created by Corcoran community benefit homeless.

March 16, 2015

At its annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, the nonprofit organization So Others Might Eat (SOME) gives the general public a taste of its work with the homeless. It is a night in which the organization sells delicate, handcrafted bowls to donors and replicates a feeding line by filling the artful ceramic dishes with soup donated from local D.C. restaurants.

The proceeds of the event help SOME feed more than 1,000 people a day—and it is  made possible by the hustle and bustle that happens all semester long at the Corcoran School of Arts and Design’s ceramic studio. That’s where Associate Professor Bob Devers corrals students, faculty and staff into “bowl-a-thons,” all-day activities in which both novices and experienced artists turn clay into contributions for SOME.

“It’s a huge thing we do every year, and we get tons of people involved,” Mr. Devers explained. “For those who don’t know how to throw bowls on a wheel, we make textured versions that anyone can do.”

Mr. Devers has been leading the project since SOME reached out to the Corcoran in 2009. Since then, he’s morphed the event into an annual operation that generates about 500 bowls a year. One year, the Corcoran donated a record of 600.

The work is in the name of charity, but Mr. Devers also uses the project as an opportunity to spin a sense of community among students, faculty and staff. At a bowl-a-thon last Friday, he had set up a breakfast spread and a Kate Bush playlist for a steady gaggle of students and alumni, all of whom he knows by name and major.


One of those students was junior Nathan Lewis, who was working on a textured bowl over a table in the studio.

“He does everything—digital media, sculpture, performance, wearable art. I’m just hoping to keep him in clay,” Mr. Devers said, introducing Mr. Lewis.

Mr. Lewis started making bowls for SOME his freshman year. (“Originally, I came because they had pizza,” he remembered. “But now it’s like a little community.”) He generally works on the studio’s wheels and once even threw about 60 bowls in one day. Today, he’s shaping a piece of clay using what he calls the “Joe Method.”

That’s a reference to Joe Bradley, B.F.A. ’10, the studio manager in the Corcoran School’s ceramics studio. He has been throwing clay since he was 15 years old, and although he got his degree in painting, he spends a lot of time with ceramics. The “Joe Method” requires that bowl-makers shape clay around a rounded piece of cardboard.

“Ceramics and painting for me go hand-in-hand because I can’t do the tedious painting work I do without the immediate gratification of ceramics,” he said.

In addition to helping to overseeing the work in the studio, Mr. Bradley also guides the glazing and firing processes. He also will assist Mr. Devers with packing up the 500 bowls for SOME’s Empty Bowls night March 24.The group already is close to reaching its number and hopes to bring in more helpers from across the university for future iterations of the project.

“It really is quite an event,” Mr. Devers said, pointing out a plaque SOME gave the Corcoran a few years ago. “The amount they glean from our bowls is around $18,000 to $22,000, so it’s always significant.”

Empty Bowls will take place March 24, 2015. For more information, visit