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Local artist lends her hands to help homeless community

Ashley Quadros
Special to The Union

“I love doing hand-building with clay,” said artist Mindy Oberne, a smile wide on her face, as she demonstrated her signature bowl making technique for the upcoming Empty Bowl benefit on March 14.

If you had told her 10 years earlier that she was destined to not only be a ceramist but a teacher of the trade, she wouldn’t have believed you. Oberne dabbled in ceramics back in college during the 70s but never had an affinity for it until a friend dragged her to an adult hand-building class at As If Studio in 2010 where her love of ceramics was born.

“I enjoyed it and took another class,” recalled Oberne, who was always a natural when it came to building with her hands. She owned and operated the ever popular “The Bagg Lady” business for 35 years, in which she designed and created custom bags and purses for women, in addition to operating a copper enamel and silk screening shop called “In Bloom” for the preceding five years.

Oberne initially took ceramic classes as part of her retirement — a new hobby to enjoy but by 2012, she was renting her own ceramic space at As If Studio and broadening her skillset by taking hand-building, sculpture and wheel classes offered by artists Dik Hotchkiss and Sam Tubiolo at Sierra College as well as classes offered by Chic Lotz of Chic Lotz Pottery.

“Volunteering is really empowering, and you make a difference in someone’s life. It’s not just giving. Volunteers get something in return.”— Mindy Oberne

In learning different methods for working with clay, Oberne’s appreciation only grew and in time she purchased her very own slab roller and kiln to create her own home studio, specializing in hand-building one-of-a-kind bowls, teapots, and serving dishes while continuing to master the trade.

Through one of her regular workings with Lotz, Oberne learned about a little local event called Empty Bowl, in which local artists come together to create and donate handcrafted bowls in an effort to raise funding and support for Hospitality House, the county’s only year-round emergency homeless shelter provider.

“Giving to the community — what this event is doing — is the best feeling you can get,” she said. “I’m proud to be a part of something that gives back.”

Oberne, alone, donates 100 bowls to help make the event possible every year, all of which are thoughtfully hand-built, designed and glazed. On top of this, she and her husband, Roger Lewis, both volunteer all day at the event to support its operations.

The duo fittingly met at a local fundraiser in 1984 and have been together ever since, both sharing a love of photography (a skill that garnered them worldwide recognition) and contributed to the opening of their joint business, Twin Star Gallery Ceramics & Photography. Their gallery is at their home and is open to the public year-round.

Oberne credits Lewis for inspiring her volunteerism and giving nature. “I was not from a family that volunteered or donated,” she revealed. “Roger’s family was. His mom ran a food bank.”

Because of Lewis, Oberne became deeply involved in volunteering in multiple capacities, including giving 10 years to help seniors through Meals on Wheels. She’s also donated her art not only to the benefit of Hospitality House but to other important causes, such as the health clinic hosted by United Way of Nevada County and California CareForce, which this past January helped an estimated 850 local low-income and homeless individuals receive medical and dental care.

“Volunteering is really empowering, and you make a difference in someone’s life,” said Oberne. “It’s not just giving. Volunteers get something in return.”

Empty Bowl returns for the 14th year on March 14 where attendees will find Oberne and Lewis working together at the event to raise awareness and support for the homeless community. Every dollar raised directly helps someone in crisis on their journey back to housing by providing critical care and services, such as shelter, food, clothing, customized case management, mental health counseling, job training and housing assistance.

“Spending $30 has never been so much fun,” concluded Lewis. “You get food, fun and you get to do something good.”

Tickets for Empty Bowl can be purchased at hhshelter.org, at BriarPatch Food Co-Op and at Bread & Roses Thrift & More. To learn more about Mindy Oberne, or to enroll in one of her hand-building classes, call 530-273-3033 or email moberne117@gmail.com. Oberne’s art will also be on display and available for purchase at the annual Open Studios Tour on Oct. 10-11, 17-18, and at Art Fusion on Nov. 7-8.

Ashley Quadros is the development director at Foothill House of Hospitality.

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