Winding up its second decade of boisterous existence, the Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW)’s annual Chili Bowl Fiesta fundraiser is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. Last Saturday’s event had lines of people waiting to get in that stretched all the way to the street side of the Rosendale Community Center parking lot — well in advance of the two-hour mark, when the early-bird entry fee of $5 is waived. Folks want their chili, their handmade bowls and their chance to boogie down to the music of Dog on Fleas, and they seem to be willing to wait patiently.
“We have a whole collection of bowls right above our sink. They brighten our day,” said Colby Martinson of Kingston as her seven-year-old son Hudson and his best friend Larry Cao, also seven, abandoned their half-eaten chili to try out some fancy footwork on the dancefloor. “We look forward to this festival every year. But they might have to move to a bigger place. So may people have discovered it; it’s not a secret anymore.”
“Too many people is a good problem to have,” admitted WSW ceramics studio manager Ruth McKinney Burket. “The line was there for almost three hours. I felt bad for them. We love this venue, but we feel that we’re outgrowing it.”
McKinney Burket has been organizing the Fiesta for five years now, and this past year acquired a staff assistant for the first time. “It’s grown so much that it takes more than one of us now,” she said. Creating the ceramic bowls and mugs that are sold as vessels for donated chili is a massive, months-long project involving dozens of volunteers. “We had a lot of extra helpers this year, including four artists-in-residence who contributed more than 50 bowls each.”
The result of all that furious mudslinging activity was a total of 1,076 handmade bowls available for sale, using clay donated by Bailey’s Ceramic Supply of Kingston. By 6 p.m., with an hour of festivities left to go, only about 40 were left on the long display tables. “We’ve never had so many bowls, and we’ve never sold out so much,” said Burket. “I think the quality of the bowls was higher this year as well.”
The crowds eagerly scarfed down the 20 different kinds of chili — some with meat, some vegetarian — provided by area eateries, accompanied by cornbread and various toppings. The chili donors were Bacchus Restaurant, Boitson’s Restaurant, Bridge Creek Catering, the Bywater Bistro, Café Mio, Davenport Farms, the Egg’s Nest, Fleisher’s Craft Butchery, the Gilded Otter, the High Falls Café, Karma Road, Main Course Catering, the Main Street Bistro, Market Market Café, McGillicuddy’s, Mohonk Mountain House, Mother Earth’s Storehouse, the Mountain Brauhaus Restaurant, P&G’s Restaurant, the Red Brick Tavern and the Rosendale Café. Cornbread was supplied by Adams Fairacre Farms, the Alternative Baker, the Bakery, Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go, Davenport Farms, Emmanuel’s Marketplace, Hannaford’s, the High Falls Food Co-Op, the High Falls Kitchenette, the Roost and the New Paltz Stop & Shop.
Most of the attendees probably didn’t realize it, but they could’ve slopped some of that tasty chili onto the carpets in the Rec Center and no one would have minded much. That’s because the worn and hard-to-clean wall-to-wall carpeting, as well as the linoleum tile dancefloor where Dog on Fleas was inspiring some high-energy boogying, are about to be torn up and replaced by new tile, thanks to a generous donation by the Rosendale Chamber of Commerce of International Pickle Festival earnings from last fall. The Chili Bowl Fiesta was just about the last big public event that will be held atop the Community Center’s old flooring.
The new flooring materials slated to be installed are reportedly easier to maintain, but the question still remains as to whether next year’s Fiesta will need to find a larger venue. Person after person interviewed for this article declared that the event is a favorite to which they return year after year. “It’s our annual event,” said Jim Marzano of Kingston. “Every year we get three or four bowls,” added his wife, Nina Silverman. “Our son did in quite a few this year. We’re replenishing.”
But there were also “a lot of new people,” according to WSW executive director Ann Kalmbach. The event is a consistently reliable fundraiser for the Binnewater-based nonprofit arts organization, and Kalmbach estimated that this year’s Fiesta would bring in “$20,000 at least.” Would a space that can legally accommodate more attendees at once generate even more support? Only time will tell.