Artist George Bowes on “Prepping Pittsburgh”

On Saturday, August 7, 2021, Prepping Pittsburgh: Art Sustaining Community will open at our BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery (500 Grant Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219). For this exhibition, artist George Bowes partnered with 10 nationally-recognized ceramicists and Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, creating 327 handmade prep bowls – one to represent each of Community Kitchen Pittsburgh’s graduates. Prepping Pittsburgh will be on view through November 29, 2021 and is a companion exhibition to Food Justice: Growing a Healthier Community through Art, opening September 10, 2021 at our main Lawrenceville location.

As we prepare for the opening, George Bowes took some time out from making bowls to write the following post, where he discusses his inspiration, his hope for the show and what it was like organizing the creation of 327 prep bowls!

Each bowl represents a person stepping forward. Each bowl represents a person bravely changing their lives. Each bowl represents hope.

The idea for this exhibition came from two sources. First, I have long had very small bowls in my collection. At first, I thought: what would I do with something so small? As I lived with the objects, I kept finding more uses for them. I started making small prep bowls as “kiln fillers” to be placed in the small places between students’ work in the kilns I fire at the college. That led to me making them in my own studio. Having many small works to draw on gives me the opportunity for endless variation in organizing the space inside and outside of the bowls. A good exploration of more formal ideas.

Bowls created by artist George Bowes

My second source of inspiration was my partner Rod. He was very interested in organizations like Community Kitchen. He really wanted to be involved with Fair Start in Seattle, Washington. Through him I learned of this organization and their program of Catalyst Kitchens. When I saw the call for entries for the Food Justice exhibition I checked to see if Pittsburgh had a Catalyst Kitchen, and they did – Community Kitchen Pittsburgh! I looked up the number of participants who had graduated from their program.  It was a very simple idea really, what if there was a prep bowl to represent each graduate? A visual presentation of how many lives Community Kitchen Pittsburgh’s programing had touched.

I decided there was no way I could produce that number of bowls in the time before the show. I asked six other artists if they were willing to participate. If the proposal was accepted, we then would each ask another person to participate. That way the choice would be more democratic and artists I was not familiar with would be included! Everything was set, then the pandemic hit. The exhibition was postponed for a full year. Unfortunately, because of unseen events, three artists had to decline their participation so the 327 bowls were created by 11 artists. 

Artist George Bowes

My hope is that this exhibition will bring much deserved attention to Community Kitchen Pittsburgh. The original concept always included information about their programing as an integral part of the exhibition. The 42-foot-long table, displaying 327 highly individual prep bowls, will span a series of display windows at CC’s BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery. Exhibition text will complement the works and feature photographs of some of the graduates from the program at Community Kitchen Pittsburgh. Hopefully this will make a strong visual statement that will draw viewers in closer to look at each piece and learn about this important organization that does so much for the community!

Ceramic communities tend to be very collaborative. It is much easier to gather the equipment one needs for the process as a group. When I graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art, a group of us banded together and rented an industrial space as a group studio. One person could afford a kiln, another a pottery wheel, we all shared space and equipment until we could afford our own. This type of collective effort afforded us all the means to continue our work outside of an academic setting. It also made us realize having support within your community is paramount. I feel this sense of banding together for the common good is exactly what Community Kitchen Pittsburgh fosters in their community. 

Bowls created by artist George Bowes

I am very impressed with Community Kitchen Pittsburgh’s programing. This admiration grew as I saw how they served their community during the pandemic. According to CKP, they provided over 600,000 meals during the pandemic to those in need. And despite needing to close the culinary school to fully in-person classes during the pandemic, they still created 36 transitional jobs for people who desperately needed employment at a time when no one was hiring. These included people transitioning from incarceration or experiencing other upheavals (such as fleeing domestic violence) and graduating high schoolers who weren’t going on to college and who really didn’t have an option, based on their life situations, to not work. A real mix of people demonstrating the varying life circumstances that can lead someone to being unemployed and seen as “unemployable”.”

If you look at their website, it is all about helping individuals. The collective number of bowls represents the effect Community Kitchen Pittsburgh has had on the community. Each bowl represents a person stepping forward. Each bowl represents a person bravely changing their lives. Each bowl represents hope. Each bowl represents an individual! Each bowl pays tribute to the graduates of Community Kitchen Pittsburgh!   

-George Bowes