Nobody can say Dr. Deena Bishop doesn’t like to get her hands dirty.
The Anchorage School District superintendent got an impromptu lesson in pottery -- and persistence -- Thursday, April 5 when she stopped by an Eagle River High School classroom to help honor a civics-minded fine arts student.
“This was my thrill of the year so far!” Bishop exclaimed after ERHS student Analisa Cederberg helped the superintendent “throw” a small bowl on a potter’s wheel in the school’s second-floor arts room.
At one point during her lesson, Bishop found herself needing a bit of help as her bowl started to come loose from the wheel. But with a little help from the 17-year-old Cederberg, Bishop eventually found herself proudly holding her own handmade bowl.
“You’re a great teacher,” she said to Cederberg.
And a great student, it turns out.
Cederberg spent the first two months of her spring semester sculpting 160 clay bowls for the Bean’s Cafe “Empty Bowl Project”, an annual fundraiser that this year raised more than $122,000 for the Anchorage nonprofit. Through her pottery work, Bean’s director Lisa Sauder estimates Cederberg contributed $4,000 to the cause.
“It gives me goosebumps,” Sauder said during a special soup lunch to honor Cederberg held in the school’s clay spattered upstairs studio.
Cederberg and her classmates -- several of whom also contributed bowls for the project -- dined Thursday on white bean chicken chili and “Nature’s medley,” a vegetarian soup dished out by Bean’s Cafe kitchen supervisor Aaron Dollison and Bean’s workers Magalo Laulu and Joe Osborne. ERHS art teacher Jacob Bera said Cederberg was relentless in her effort to make as many bowls as possible in time for the March 10 Empty Bowls dinner.
“She came in at 7 a.m. and I had to kick her out at night,” Bera said.
Cederberg said her inspiration actually came from a student at crosstown rival Chugiak High. Last year, CHS student Reece Perez created 100 bowls for the gala fundraiser, which serves a variety of soups in bowls crafted by artists throughout the community.
“I was really inspired by that,” Cederberg said.
On her first day, Cederberg sculpted 20 bowls.
But simply turning the bowl isn’t all there is to it, she said. The entire job -- which includes firing the bowl in a kiln, glazing it, then firing it again -- can take up to a week, she said.
“It’s quite a process,” she said.
Bera said he waived part of Cederberg’s semester requirements in order to allow her to make as many bowls as possible.
“I never do that,” he said with a laugh.
Although the project was fun in the end, Cederberg did admit she plans to focus on different types of pottery for the rest of the school year.
“I think it’s safe to say I took a break from bowls for a while,” said Cederberg, who wants to study sports medicine at either Washington State University or the University of Northern Colorado in the fall.
ERHS principal Marty Lang said Cederberg’s effort shows what can happen when students find something they’re passionate about.
“I think that’s what Analisa did here is she discovered her own passion and then an outlet for it that’s going to benefit the community,” Lang said.
Cederberg’s efforts go far beyond the classroom, he said.
“This is something that she chose to do, and to me that’s where true learning starts,” he said.
Dr. Bishop agreed.
“We want them to be a part of the community and being a part of the community is giving back to the community,” she said. “So when they can do something in school that’s actually tangible, that they can see ‘I do make a difference,’ it’s a win-win.”
Sauder said Cederberg’s bowls raised enough money to pay for weekend lunches for two classrooms of elementary school students through the Children’s Lunchbox program.
“That’s just amazing,” she said.
For Cederberg, all those hours spent making bowls before and after school were more than worth the lost sleep and dirty hands.
“When they started telling me the numbers, that’s the part I’m most proud of,” she said. “Because you realize the impact. That was my favorite part.”
As for Dr. Bishop, her favorite part was clearly getting to take her turn behind the wheel.
“Wow, wow, wow!” she said. “My first bowl!”
Cederberg told the superintendent she could pick up her finished work on Monday.
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]