Panther Ridge’s Denise Millett-Olverson is putting her talent for making pottery into a good cause: the Empty Bowls fundraiser.
Meals on Wheels Plus-Manatee’s annual Empty Bowls provides those who attend with a bowl of soup from various restaurants as well as a handmade bowl in order to raise funds for those in need.
Millett-Olverson, who has been making pottery since 1978, used to make bowls for Empty Bowls when she lived in West Virginia, and now she will continue the tradition in Manatee County.
“It’s a good combination of doing good and having fun,” Millett-Olverson said. “I give a lot of (my pottery) away because I like sharing it. I have fun making it, and then I have fun giving it to people.”
She hopes to provide at least 20 bowls to Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee for Empty Bowls in Lakewood Ranch Nov. 4.
Denise Millett-Olverson explained what it takes to make a bowl.
Step 1: Shaping the bowl
For a longtime potter like Millett-Olverson, actually shaping the bowl takes the least amount of time of the entire process.
She can have a bowl shaped in about 10 minutes, taking a clump of clay and building it up to her desired height and width. She has to ensure the clay is even in thickness all around.
“The clay just tells me how to go,” she said. “Sometimes I start out to make something, and I might end up with something different.”
Once she has finished creating the bowl, she allows it to rest and air dry for a week. Once the clay has dried slightly, she trims the bottom of it.
Step 2: Into the fire
Millett-Olverson will put her bowls into a kiln for bisque firing so they can be safely handled during the glazing and decorating process.
Bisque firing takes about a day, and she has to wait another day after taking it out of the kiln to cool.
Millett-Olverson couldn’t start making bowls for Empty Bowls until October because her kiln, which can get up to 2,200 degrees, makes it too hot for her to work during the summer months.
Step 3: Glazing and designing
Now here comes the fun part and sometimes, the most difficult part.
Millett-Olverson has to decide not only what type of glaze, such as matte or glossy, to use but also what color. Sometimes she can’t decide what she wants to do.
“I’m OK with it being plain, and I’m OK with going ahead and painting something on it,” she said.
For other projects, Millett-Olverson has painted animals such as horses and fish on her pottery, or she’s used stamps to add prints.
Although it can be difficult to choose the colors and design, Millett-Olverson enjoys being able to do whatever she wants.
“You’re always thinking and looking at things, like 'look at that design on that shirt', I could press that into clay,” she said. “You’re always on the lookout. It’s sort of an ongoing thing in your mind.”
To make it easier when she’s working on multiple pieces at a time, she will number each piece and keep a log of what she made, how much clay she used, and how they will be designed and glazed. Millett-Olverson said this log helps her to plan ahead and not waste time when working on large projects such as donating dozens of bowls for Empty Bowls.
She has fun coming up with her designs and seeing the final product.
“Glazing is like the icing on the cake,” Millett-Olverson said.
Step 4: Back into the fire
Every piece of pottery has to go back into the kiln for another day after glazing followed by another day of letting the pieces cool down.
Step 5: Donating or selling
Whether she’s donating her pottery to organizations like Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee or selling her pieces at an art show, Millett-Olverson looks forward to seeing who will like what she has created.
Millett-Olverson said it can be difficult to donate or sell a bowl when she falls in love with a finished piece.
She recalled selling her work at an art show once in West Virginia and there was a mug she wanted to keep for herself. She almost made it to the end of the art show without selling her favorite mug until a woman wanted to buy it.
As much as she wanted to keep the mug, Millett-Olverson said she was “glad it went to a good home” with a woman who loved the mug.