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Sarah Bennett

Stout senior Sarah Bennett shows off a few of the bowls she has ready to be glazed and fired for Stepping Stones’ Empty Bowls event on March 2. 

One glance at Sarah Bennett’s footgear shows where she’s been and what she’s been doing.

Her comfortable black sneakers are “decorated” with splashes of the pale gray clay she used to create unique, undulating sculptures for her senior art show. She’s also spent the fall semester throwing dozens of bowls on the potter’s wheel in a second-floor studio in the Applied Arts building at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

After they’re glazed and fired, Bennett’s bowls of many styles and colors will be among a collection of many others from which to choose during Stepping Stones annual Empty Bowls fundraiser on Saturday, March 2.

Throughout the community, a wide variety of artists contribute to the effort – from professional potters and wood turners to high school students along with the elementary students who sometimes provide their decorating skills. Stout’s Ceramics Club is also donating bowls to the cause which supports Stepping Stones’ local food pantry, homeless shelters and community outreach programs.

“For one of my classes, I need to do a field experience – real world experience that pertains to art making,” she said.

Bennett knew she’d found just the perfect project during a summer ceramics class last year taught by Professor Geof Wheeler. He told her that Stepping Stones had reached out to him in previous years about having Stout students donate bowls for the popular event.

“It’s been just wonderful to get back into pottery with the bowls I’ve been making. I’ve been spending so much time in sculpture lately,” Bennett said, noting that the two processes are very different. “It’s very relaxed, especially during this time of year at school.”

She estimates that between her contributions and those of the university’s Ceramics Club, the total output of “empty bowls” will come in at between 80 and 100 for this year’s event.

At the end of her sophomore year, Bennett rediscovered a passion for ceramics that was originally kindled during her high school years: “I really fell in love with it then, but it really wasn’t something I thought about pursuing as a career until I took ceramics here at Stout.”

At the suggestion of Wheeler – who has since served as her mentor, the arts education major added a major in ceramics. Come the spring semester, the senior will be heading to Ellsworth as a student teacher before graduating from Stout in May. Her initial plan is to teach high school art, but she would eventually like to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts and teach at the college level.

But Bennett will always have fond memories of using her pottery skills to contribute to the community she says she fell in love with immediately when she came to tour the campus on the recommendation of her high school art teacher back home in the village of McFarland.

“I’m really interested in making things that people are really going to value,” Bennett said about the bowl-making project and making art in general. “We live in a time where so much of the stuff in the world is pre-produced and manufactured. … I want to make things that people will use over and over again and show off to their friends – and make them think about the art that exists in their lives.”

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Barbara Lyon is the Development & Communications Specialist at nonprofit Stepping Stones of Dunn County.

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