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Event expected to raise $10,000 for two local nonprofit groups

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FARMINGTON — When the Charity Bowl Sale got its start at San Juan College 17 years ago, the goal was modest — raise $300 or so for a local nonprofit organization and give shoppers the chance to purchase some affordable, one-of-a-kind holiday gifts.

The annual event certainly has succeeded on that front — and then some. This year's sale, which takes place Nov. 21-22 at the college, will feature close to 1,400 bowls and is expected to raise approximately $10,000 for two local charities. Preparations for the event now take place on a year-round basis, with some students beginning to churn out bowls for the next year's event the week after the current year's sale ends.

"We have a few left (every year), not a lot," said Don Ellis, the professor of fine arts who oversees the sale. "Every year is pretty much a sellout. People who come year after year usually come in the first three or four hours so they get the best overall pick."

Each bowl is $10 — a price that Ellis proudly noted hasn't changed in 17 years — and comes with a free fill-up of soup from Mary's Kitchen, the college's on-campus eatery. The bowls are produced mostly by the college's ceramics students and faculty members, although Ellis noted that four or five ceramics artists from the community and students from the Piedra Vista High School ceramics programs have contributed bowls this year, as well.

The event is firmly established as a holiday tradition in the Farmington area, and Ellis said his students have embraced it, with many working tirelessly in the months leading up to the sale to plan and execute the event, in addition to churning out bowls. He said a handful of students and graduates have been involved in the event every year since its inception, though he said that a few of them had to finally drop out this year after relocating.

The Special Olympics of San Juan County and Four Corners Warriors Extreme Adventures will be the organizations that benefit from some of the proceeds raised from this year's event. A committee of students chooses the recipients each year, and an emphasis is placed on funneling the money to local groups.

Representatives of one of last year's charity groups, Bags of Love, told Ellis the money they received amounted to 25 percent of their annual budget. They were so grateful for the financial assistance they offered to come help with this year's sale, even though they won't be one of the recipients this year.

Some of Ellis' students produce as many as 100 bowls a year for the sale. It takes about two years of steady work before someone is able to reach a high-quality level, he said.

The production of a single bowl takes several days. A highly-experienced ceramicist can throw one in as little as 10 minutes, he said, but that is only the first step. The piece must be allowed to dry to leather hardness, then it is flipped, and a "foot" is fashioned on its bottom. It undergoes its first firing in a kiln that reaches 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit, then it is glazed and fired in a second kiln that reaches 2,350 degrees.

"The time spent making it, throwing it, is the quickest part," Ellis said, noting that there is also time required for sanding and finishing the bottoms of the pieces, and mixing the glazes that cover them.

Still, it's an addictive process, he said, one he finds very rewarding even after years of leading the college's ceramics program.

"It kind of depends on the person," he said, smiling. "I went home the second week of my first pottery class and told my wife, 'Let's go buy a potter's wheel.' As soon as she stopped crying, we went and bought one. She doesn't cry anymore."

The Charity Bowl Sale will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 21-22 in the 9000 meeting rooms of the Henderson Fine Arts Center on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Call 505-566-3464.  

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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