Ceramics students use their creativity to help fight food insecurity on campus

Poster for Bowled Over project

Penn State Ceramics students recently made a $3,500 donation to the University’s student-run food pantry, The Lion’s Pantry, which they raised from selling limited-edition, student-produced bowls over the past two years.

The students’ project, called “Bowled Over,” evolved from the pop-up Clay Café in the Borland Project Space, which offered free tea and coffee served in student-made cups and mugs during week-long residencies in 2019 and early 2020. Conversations about food insecurity inspired the student ceramics club, clay c0ven, to take their activism to the next level.

The students originally planned to make the bowls on campus in summer 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent campus lockdown forced them to change course. Not willing to postpone the project, Anna Graef, who received her B.F.A. in 2021, and Andrew Castañeda, who received his M.F.A. in 2020, set up a ceramics studio in a garage and got to work, making bowls during a time when much of the world was at a standstill. In fall 2020, they transferred the unfired bowls to the ceramics studio on campus to be glazed, fired and finished.

“Bowled Over” was co-directed by associate professor Shannon Goff and former Penn State faculty member Kris Grey. “Penn State Ceramics likes to lead with generosity, and so naturally giving back is forever on my mind,” said Goff, noting she and Grey originally envisioned a collaboration involving units across the University. “Despite our excitement and commitment to what was becoming Bowled Over, we never could have expected a global pandemic. We weren’t willing to give up but scaled back due to COVID-19 … It has been a joy to witness how the process emboldened and bonded the students. Bowled Over strengthened our community, connectivity and engagement with the fight against food insecurity in the region, all while making art accessible.”

2022 Penn State graduate William Li, who was the director of The Lion’s Pantry in 2021-22, said he was grateful not only for the monetary support, but also the opportunity for collaboration and engagement.

“It was at the initiative of one professor, Shannon Goff, that I found myself surrounded by impossible shapes of clay and glaze, talking about the potential partnership between our two organizations. At the end of our discussion, it wasn’t the prospective monetary support that excited me; it was the dream of engagement, community and solidarity that Shannon shared,” said Li. “At Penn State and beyond, it should be self-evident that we need to foster our sense of community before we can begin to address the complex issues faced by our community. In short, it’s taking steps to embody the sense that ‘We Are!’”