Beautiful Turned-Wood Bowls for a Cause, Courtesy of the Maine State Prison

An outside-the-box fundraiser teams up local artists, a local gallery, and the local penitentiary.

A Maine State Prison resident paints a woodsy scene on a wooden bowl. He is one of 28 artists decorating bowls to raise money for AIO, a midcoast food- and energy-assistance organization.
By Monique Brouillette
Photographed by Tara Rice
From our September 2022 issue

Earlier this year, Joe Ryan, executive director of Knox County’s Area Interfaith Outreach, was working with Camden’s Page Gallery on an idea for a fundraiser: artist-designed soup-can labels, to be auctioned off in support of the group’s food pantry. But soup cans represent an old perception of food pantries, Ryan realized. And AIO, a 32-year-old organization specializing in food and energy assistance, is not a place for cheap canned goods but rather fresh, local produce and other nutritious foods. The food pantry, which moved into a new building in Rockland two years ago, feels like a quaint neighborhood grocery. Outside, it’s flanked by vegetable gardens. Inside, the light-filled space is filled with tidy shelves stocked with fruits and vegetables, freshly baked bread, and locally roasted coffee beans. Since moving into its new facility, AIO has gone from serving 50 midcoast families to more than 200 each week.

An alternative fundraiser idea struck Ryan a few months ago. Wooden bowls, symbolizing fresh and healthy foods, would much better represent what AIO does, he thought. And he knew just the place to source them — the Maine State Prison. Gardening is part of the Maine Department of Corrections’ programming, and the Maine State Prison, in Warren, delivers truckloads of excess produce, grown by residents, to AIO. Ryan remembered learning, in a meeting earlier this year with corrections commissioner Randall Liberty, that residents of the Maine State Prison also turned wooden bowls in the facility’s woodshop, and Liberty had offered to help with a fundraiser in any way that he could. And so, AIO’s ArtFeeds project, in collaboration with the Page Gallery and the Maine Department of Corrections, will be auctioning off 35 wooden bowls made at the prison and decorated by local artists.

The only direction for the artists was to “create something that represents the community taking care of one another with food.” Twenty-eight artists, including Page Gallery founder Colin Page, two teenage food-pantry volunteers, and a Maine State Prison resident, contributed designs using everything from paint to decoupage to cyanotype print. A few other artists created their own ceramic and wooden bowls. Some are food safe and ready to use at the dinner table, others solely art pieces. “In this community, we are not defined by going to art museums or food pantries,” Ryan says. “We all love art and food and have to take care of one another.”

The bowls are on display at the Page Gallery September 3–10. A reception and silent auction will be held on Saturday, September 10. The exhibition and auction are free to attend.