Some of Central Oregon's most skilled potters came together Saturday night at Cindercone Clay Center in Bend to throw off the burden of being a serious artist.

Competitors at the Pottery Games throw one-handed, with an audience volunteer providing a second set of fingers to work the clay.

They work blindfolded, feeling about for their tools as a lump of clay spirals on the potter's wheel. Some even dispense with using their hands entirely, using their elbows or even their feet to craft entirely passable pots and bowls.

The games are the kickoff for NeighborImpact's annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, a dinner marking National Hunger and Homelessness Week. Between now and the event on Nov. 11, local potters will create roughly 800 bowls, which will be used to serve gourmet soup made by students at the Cascade Culinary Institute.

Funds raised at Empty Bowls support NeighborImpact's food, housing, health care and child care programs for low-income residents of Central Oregon.

Sandy Klein of NeighborImpact said about 250 of the bowls that will be used in November typically come from the Pottery Games event. Other artists will contribute bowls over the next few months, each one distinct from the other.

“They'll make different varieties because that's part of the fun of Empty Bowls, looking at all the different bowls and picking out one that's your style,” she said.

Potter James Sant helped create the Pottery Games and the Empty Bowls dinner 11 years ago.

The owner of Blue Spruce Gallery at the time, Sant had a friend who was the assistant director at NeighborImpact. At the time, the organization was looking to raise $12,000 to purchase a refrigerated truck, which would allow it to collect food donations from stores and restaurants.

Sant was familiar with Empty Bowls events in other parts of the country, most of which were a partnership between potters and the Salvation Army. He proposed an Empty Bowls dinner to benefit NeighborImpact, and that fall, the event raised enough money for NeighborImpact to buy its truck.

While Empty Bowls has continued growing over the years, the accompanying Pottery Games — originally known as the Pottery Olympics — developed a higher profile as well. Eventually, the International Olympic Committee caught wind of it, Sant said, and forced the event to change its name.

Chad Fox, co-owner of Cindercone Clay Center, said Pottery Games is always fun for local potters, many of whom largely work in their own home studios and don't often have the opportunity to interact. Fox said the competitions are a chance for potters to show off skills that are only slightly related to their art.

John Kinder, co-owner with Fox of the Cindercone Clay Center, is always a favorite in the hands-free competition as he's unusually skilled at crafting pots using only his feet, Fox said. Bill Earhart, the man who creates the prize mugs doled out at the Pole Pedal Paddle, may be the fastest potter in the area, Fox said — in a speed competition at a previous Pottery Games, Earhart turned out 28 bowls in 15 minutes.

“This is just kinda fun because you get to meet the potters and do some fun competitions,” said Fox. “You get to see us act goofy.”

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