Adrianna Sanchez wasn't sure about the design, but she knew she didn't want any cracks.
She tugged and pounded the blob of gray potter's clay, looking for inspiration, but the more the 7-year-old handled the clay, the drier it became.
Finally, she gathered the material into a ball, made an indentation with her right thumb and worked the edges. It started to take shape, and this time Adrianna seemed happy with the progress.
Then she noticed several hairline cracks criss-crossing the surface.
"It's hard," she said, trying to smooth them over with her thumb.
Too hard — and too frustrating. A minute later, she collapsed the sides, signifying the end of one bowl and the impending start of another.
"It just got cracked," she explained.
No one said art was easy.
At least for Adrianna and 34 other school-age children at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center last week, making bowls proved an entertaining diversion on a rainy afternoon.
The children, ages 5 to 14, were participants in Project Empty Bowls, an annual fundraiser that matches local children with the United Food Bank.
Throughout the summer and fall, the children will work in groups at rec centers, schools and some local churches to fashion hundreds of tiny clay bowls that will be glazed and fired at 1,500 degrees in a kiln. In November, the bowls will be given to donors at the food bank's annual soup-and-bread charity luncheon. Organizers hope to have 1,000 bowls for the event.
"We now have about 250. Come September, we're going to be hustling," United Food Bank board member Silvia Dodson said.
East of downtown at the MLK rec center, the biggest challenge facing pottery instructor Shawna Everidge seemed to be getting the children focused. Next hardest, getting them to stop fiddling with their creations.
Everidge, 29, who operates a pottery studio at her Plant City home, brought some scallop shells and artist's tools to make imprints and other designs in the clay.
She is one of two pottery artists who volunteered to help Project Empty Bowls. David Dye, a retired art professor at Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City campus, is helping as well. This fall, the duo will visit public schools to teach kids how to make the bowls. Up to 23 public schools will participate in Project Empty Bowls, Dodson said.
At the MLK center, some children wrote inspirational messages — "Hope," "Love" and "Peace" — inside the bowls. Everidge helped them sign their names on the underside. She floated from one table to the next to check their progress.
"I thought the hardest thing was going to be getting them to understand they can't take the bowls home when they're finished, but once we explained it's for a greater cause, they understood it," she said.
It turned out the more difficult trick was getting the children to stop at less than perfect. They seemed intent on making unfailingly symmetrical, crack-free bowls.
Everidge told them to go easy on the clay, but she steered clear of being overly instructive.
"I don't like to intervene. I want the bowls to be a representation of their artwork, not my artwork," she said.
She stopped at Adrianna's table. The girl with thick black glasses craned her neck upward.
"I messed up," she told Everidge.
"I told you, if you overwork the clay, you're going to get a lot of cracks," the teacher replied.
At the end of the session sat 35 bowls. Everidge said they'll spend about two weeks drying before they're fired in her kiln.
Last year's fundraiser generated about $6,000 in donations. The money goes toward general operations at the food bank, food purchases, and help for a breakfast and lunch program for poor children, said the Rev. Dean Pfeffer, a United Food Bank board member and the pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Plant City.
This year's event will be held from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Nov. 10. Tickets will be $10.
Everidge plans a bowl-making session for parents and children at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at 705 N Alexander St. Register for Empty Bowls Community Craft Night and enjoy soup and bread donated by the Corner Store while making a bowl for the cause. Call (813) 659-4298, ext. 4904.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2454.