“We get regularly assigned that moniker and it doesn’t slow us down,” Terra said. “We had to start with the brick and work our way back. It’s still in progress.”
Terra, as an artist, doesn’t slow down either. His calendar notes 30 art shows a year across the country and during his self-dubbed “down month” of January, he still works in his studio to create ceramics, hang shelves and organize the Empty Bowls Project to raise funds for the Community Kitchen. Only a slight bout of the sniffles slowed him long enough for a little rest, and even then he multi-tasked by making a batch of homemade organic cookies while discussing his art and the Empty Bowls Project.
“I have my lists of tasks and it seems in the course of a day, I can get a lot of the tasks off the list,” Terra said. “Of course, spending time with my family is more interesting to me than spending time in the studio.”
To that end, Terra often finds himself in the studio during the overnight hours while his wife, Victoria, and daughter, Xan, sleep. Xan, 17, is homeschooled and is considering attending culinary school next year.
Throughout Terra’s career, his art has ranged from 7-by-20-foot paintings to stained glass to precious metalsmithing to pottery and ceramics.
“I have two styles of work that I constantly pursue and both of them have some specific emotional engagement,” he said. “What I do generally is more involved so that you revisit a piece. When you make things into art, the way you see it changes.”
He likened the changes in perception to how a book changes in meaning over time for a person. Perhaps someone read “The Tempest” as a high school student and only received the basic gist of the plot but then read it again at 25, 35, 45 and 55 and saw deeper meanings as perceptions of the world changed.
It’s the same with artwork. Terra wants people to think about the art and how it relates to their life and their perceptions.
“It’s very tricky,” he said. “I’ve been doing sort of two parallel things. Part of it is whimsical, all about evoking that childhood laughter. I also do a lot of stuff with words that can provoke a deeper sense of emotional commitment through a subterfuge of words.”
Terra pointed to one clay drinking class emblazoned with an “N” and the word “womb” written in a Scrabble-tile format on one side. It might look like a glass with an “N” monogram, but closer inspection urges the viewer to think through the word and letter combination, sound it out and then utter “woman.”
“Everything has little layers stuck in there,” he said. “You might use a glass for a year and then realize what it means.”
Much of his work now focuses on wordplay, a natural choice for a person who likes to write. He tests his creative writing skills out on clay postcards with messages that make the reader pause and think.
“Art is the thing that engages in a willing dialogue with the observer,” he said. “I’m trying to produce art, and I’m trying to do it deliberately, which is insane, but what the heck.”
Terra had heard about the Empty Bowls Project during his career as a ceramic artist. The premise of the national project involves assuring that the money raised locally stays in the community.
“The basis is simply that hunger is one of the most pervasive and curable ills of our society,” he said. “Is there enough in our culture? Is there any reason for anyone to go hungry? No, there isn’t.”
Terra spent 18 months researching and planning the first Empty Bowls project in 2011. He wanted to raise $5,000 for the Community Kitchen, but the turnout and generosity of the community stunned him. Terra presented the Community Kitchen a $14,000 check.
Last year’s Empty Bowls project sold more than 900 bowls, and 300 people booked appointments in his studio to glaze bowls. The volunteer glazers did not get to keep their bowls. Their work was piled with the rest of the bowls available at the luncheon.
“People were paying $20 for a $15 ticket or $50 for a $15 ticket,” he said. “It was a huge grassroots success, and that is exactly what I dreamed of. We’re not a big community. When a community generates this much commitment, it makes me very happy that this is where we moved.”
Terra, ever the overachiever and optimist, plans to glaze 1,200 bowls this year and donate $20,000 to the Community Kitchen. When he had down time during the year, he glazed about 250 bowls, but the bulk of the work happened in January and February with volunteers from the community.
“It’s like a fingerprint of our community wrapped in a collection of bowls,” Terra said.”
About Empty Bowls
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25
Where: Julian Carroll Convention Center
How much: $15 per person, includes food donated from area restaurants and a bowl
Benefits the Community Kitchen