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Monday, April 12, 2004
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Community of artists

By Susan Green

The place has a pervasive scent. Earthy. It's the smell of damp clay.

Click to watch video clipsFrank Saliani, a graduate student, is poised over a potter's wheel in Ohio University's ceramics studio, throwing an elegant porcelain bowl. One of the 15 he donated for the Souper Bowl.

This is the fourth year the ceramics department has made bowls for the Passion Works Studio fund-raising event. Twenty faculty and students produced nearly 200 bowls. And Saliani is happy to be a part of it.

"I like the idea of making utilitarian pieces that people can use," he says, "something that I've thought about and hopefully will enrich the lives of those who use them."

Like many students who are involved in service-learning projects, Saliani thinks that by participating, you become a more conscious member of your community.

Brad Schwieger agrees.

Brad Schweiger encourages students to give back to the community.Schwieger, chair of the ceramics department, is an advocate for community service. "In a small town, with a university of this size, the two are tied together and students definitely feel they are part of the community," he says. "Passion Works is unique and I feel it's important to be part of what they offer." Schwieger says faculty and students also donate works to the Dairy Barn for their annual fund-raising auction.

He also believes students involved with projects like this carry the benefits with them for a long time, since they see firsthand how rewarding the experience is. It's not uncommon for someone in town to recognize Schwieger or the students and thank them for their contribution to the event.

Typically, Schwieger assigns responsibility for the bowl making to a graduate student. This year, Rachel Euting was in charge of rallying people to the project.

Ceramics is community-based media and producing the bowls is a true community effort. "It takes a group of us to build the kilns, to fire the kilns, load the kilns or mix the clay," Schwieger says. "We have to do things together to make things work around here, and I think that collaboration's an important part of the process, too."

Because of the tight-knit nature of the ceramics community, participation in charity events beyond Athens is not unusual. The department has made cups for a Baldwin-Wallace benefit for the homeless, cups for the Carbondale Clay Center and for Philadelphia Clay Works.

"These ceramic centers are like half-way houses for ceramic students once they graduate," Schwieger says. "They need a place to digest what they've learned as undergraduates, so they take advantage of the teaching opportunities these community centers offer." They don't have a lot of income, so Schwieger says he does whatever he can by donating work for fund raising to keep these places alive, because, "they, in turn keep us alive."

Frank Saliani working on the potter's wheel.A true community event, Starbrick Clay, Jennifer Tvork, MA '00, Dennis Deane, professor of fine arts Ohio University-Chillicothe and Margaret McAdams, professor of fine arts Ohio University-Chillicothe also made bowls for the event. Hilary and Mark Burhans provided the evening's music. And Athens area restaurants donated the food.

Patty Mitchell, MFA '91, founder of Passion Works Studio, says the ceramics department, has always come through with beautiful bowls.

"People come to the Souper Bowl because it's a fun event," Mitchell says. "The effort of organizing the fund-raiser brings together the best of Athens - art, music, food and people. It's inclusive, and everyone contributes to its success."

Over 300 people attended the event, which raised $4,000 for two non-profit agencies, Passion Works Studio and the Athens Mediation Service.

Passion Works Studio creates art opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. The studio is housed within a sheltered workshop providing services for 135 adults with developmental disabilities and welcomes professional artists and other community members to collaborate with Passion Works' artists.

Susan Green is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.

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