Jason Grant presses his foot on the pedal and slowly the pottery wheel in front of him begins to spin.

As the blob of clay in his hands begins to take shape, it looks more like the beginning stages of a bowl. While he’s only been a potter for several weeks, and most would assume he would be keeping the bowl, he knows exactly what he’s going to do with it.

“I’ll be donating it,” said Grant, who is taking a 16-week pottery session at Thrown Together Pottery and Art. “It will go to the Bowls for Balance fundraiser that supports the local mental health organization. It’s my first time participating so I’m excited in that sense. My goal is to donate whatever I can, so that likely means two or three.”

Grant is just one of many who will be donating bowls for the event, which is marking its third year on May 18 and 19. It’s the first time the fundraiser for the Colchester East Hants Mental Health Association will be held over a two-day period. Bowls will be on sale from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days.

Bowls for Balance was the brainchild of Danielle Sawada. She says the event, held at SOUP (Supportive Opportunities for Unemployed Persons) Café, has grown each year, which is part of the reason it’s being held over two days.

“The response has been wonderful each year and because we were selling so many bowls, we wanted to spread it out,” said Sawada. “We’re looking for between 75 and 100 bowls this year. Once we know how many we have, we will split the bowls into two groups. SOUP will display the bowls in advance so people will know what bowls will be available on which day.”

The bowls are sold for $25, which includes fresh soup. In year one, 25 bowls were sold which was followed up by 67 bowls in year two. As word of the fundraiser continues to spread, Sawada says support is coming in from all corners of the province.

That includes members of the Nova Scotia Potters Guild.

“They actually approached me last year and said we could count them in,” she said. “Right now, we have bowls donated from potters in the Annapolis Valley and along the South Shore, Pugwash, Nine Mile River and New Glasgow. Then you can add my students into the mix as well. I think it speaks to the power of this event.”

Excited about the support the event has received, Sawada is still hoping to reach potential donors. They should be handmade pottery bowls and if possible, big enough to hold soup.

In some cases, Sawada realizes that isn’t the case and smaller bowls have been doubled up.

“Many of the bowls people are purchasing could be sold for $40 or higher on their own,” she said.

Sigrid Newman has been a student at Thrown Together Pottery for years. She’s been donating bowls since the fundraiser started three years ago. She recalls Sawada asking students if they had anything they would like to donate for the event.

“It was a simple decision for me to get involved. I went home that night and immediately started looking for what I called a reasonably shaped and presentable bowl,” she laughed.

“Each year, as the event gets closer, I start thinking about which ones I’d like to donate.”
Newman’s intricate designs have become a popular selection for those hoping to grab a bowl at the event. While the cuts and tears in the pottery look strategic, she says it’s quite the opposite.

“When I first started doing this, my bowls would never come out round so that’s when I started cutting bits out and adding bits in,” she said. “It was basically to hide the defects.

Now it’s apparently become a thing. When I have what I would consider a nice, round bowl, those in my class look at me and ask what I’m going to do with it. They never expect me to produce just a plain bowl.”

In the end, Newman says it comes down to the cause.

“I’ve had family members struggle with mental health issues so for me, as long as I’m making bowls I’ll be donating them. It’s just a great cause,” she said.

Unlike previous years, the date of Bowls for Balance has been moved until after Mother’s Day which has created even more opportunity.

Those looking for a special gift for mom can now purchase a $25 gift certificate which can then be used to purchase a bowl.

“We also have people looking to purchase multiple bowls,” said Sawada. “Obviously, most people aren’t prepared to sit down and eat two bowls of soup so this year, if someone buys more than one bowl, they will get a meal voucher for SOUP which they can use at a later date.”

As she prepares to load more bowls into the kiln, Sawada says the main reason she wanted to launch the idea was because of the direct correlation between the arts and good mental health.

She says some of her students have been ordered by a therapist to take her class in an effort to improve their mental health.

“You don’t think about anything else when you’re here. It’s good for your mental health,” she said. “It’s great to be able to help others when they are struggling with their mental health but you have to take care of your mental health too. That’s why it’s such a good partnership.”

Grant is a perfect example. Dealing with the stress of launching a business in the county, he says he needed to step back, take a break and tap into his creativity.

It’s worked and now he’s happy to be helping others, or at least that’s what he hopes.

“It takes every bit of my focus and energy to get this piece of clay to come out even somewhat looking like a bowl. I never expected Bowls for Balance would be something I’d be involved with. I’m still not sure someone is going to pick up my bowls,” he said with a laugh. “I know there haven’t been any bowls left over but I’m a new guy so there’s a first time for everything. But in all seriousness, I’m just happy I’m able to support an initiative like this.”