Women’s Studio Workshop’s 20th annual Chili Bowl Fiesta draws a crowd to SUNY Ulster

Megan Shea of Rockland County and Rachel Dubicki (who teaches ceramics at Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale) at the Workshop’s Chili Bowl Fest last Saturday. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

The Chili Bowl Fiesta fundraiser put on each February by the Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW) just gets more popular and more successful every year. For the first few years after its 1996 launch, it was held in the non-for-profit arts organization’s studios on Binnewater Lane, but quickly outgrew the space and was moved to the Rosendale Recreation Center on Route 32. Supporters came back year after year, patiently waiting on lines that snaked across the parking lot for their turn to pick out their favorite handmade ceramic bowls and mugs and fill them with zesty chili.

Stella Picuri of Accord serves up chili from The Red Brick Tavern at the Women’s Studio Workshop Chili Bowl Fest held at SUNY Ulster last Saturday.

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Last Saturday was the Fiesta’s 20th anniversary, and fortunately, considering the stormy weather, it was held in a brand-new venue: the cafeteria in Vanderlyn Hall on the SUNY-Ulster campus. Though there was still a wait to be served, no one had to linger outdoors, and the food line was split in two: one for chili con carne and one for vegetarians. The event’s more spacious new home also enabled WSW to set up a merchandise table and a demonstration area with a working potter’s wheel.

The student dining hall has a dual-level eating area, so more diners could be accommodated at one time. There were more display tables for the ceramics on sale as well, separated by price, enabling a more comfortable flow. And as the selection was picked over, volunteers kept refreshing the tables with new bowls. According to Fiesta organizer Ruth McKinney Burket, more than 1,200 were made this year for the event: at least 100 more than in 2016. “My goal is always to be bigger than before,” she said.

One attendee, Helen Stubblefield of Stone Ridge, reminisced about her time working at WSW back in 2001, when the Fiesta was a much smaller event. “It’s really good to see it all grown up for the 20th anniversary,” she said. “I like how the chili-bowl-making has really become established. The spirit of collaboration is really fun.” Stubblefield added that next year she plans to join a group of friends who have been coming back week after week for the volunteer pottery-making sessions.

McKinney Burket, who made arrangements for the new location with SUNY Ulster’s coordinator of campus life, Deb Waller-Frederick, said that there had been some anxiety about turnout this year. Some volunteers were posted at the Rec Center to redirect visitors who might be unaware of the change in venue. But the usual crowds turned out: “I think the numbers were as good as always,” she reported toward the end of the five-hour chili party. “One hour ago we were at about 800 [attendance].”

Although McKinney Burket said that “We had more chili donated this year than in other years,” those 800+ people showed up hungry. “Apparently 90 gallons was not adequate,” observed WSW grantwriter Julia Hickey, who was acting as chili-line wrangler for the afternoon. “For the record, we ran out of meat [chili] at about ten to six. The veggie will probably be gone shortly after that.” In fact, the final batch of vegetarian chili was the “house special,” thrown together in the dining hall kitchen by volunteers at the last minute.

Donors of batches of chili and cornbread for Chili Bowl Fiesta ’17 included the Alternative Baker, Bacchus Restaurant, the Bakery, Bridge Creek Catering, Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go, Café Mio, Gilded Otter Brewing Company, High Falls Food Co-Op, Karma Road, High Falls Kitchenette, Main Course Catering, Main Street Bistro, Market Market Café, Mexican Kitchen, Mohonk Mountain House, Mother Earth’s Storehouse, Mountain Brauhaus Restaurant, P and G’s Restaurant, Red Brick Tavern, the Roost, Rosendale Café and Tuthill House at the Mill.

Megan Suave, a former Women’s Studio Workshop Chili Bowl Fest intern, returns to the festival to demonstrate throwing a bowl on the potter’s wheel.

McKinney Burket noted that three event sponsors had also stepped up this year: the Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, the Senate Garage and Bailey Pottery Equipment and Ceramic Supplies. “The sponsors help offset the cost of the rental,” she said. “It costs more to rent this place, but it’s worth it. We didn’t want people to have to wait outside.”

Besides the food, the beautiful crockery, the camaraderie and the satisfaction of helping to support an outstanding community organization, attendees got to enjoy several hours of live music. The string band In the Kitchen cranked out a toe-tapping stream of upbeat Americana-style tunes such as “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” There was room to dance off the calories, and as usual at the Fiesta, plenty of small children were up boogying with their parents.

As the festivities wound down, two of those kids were recruited to draw names from a paper bag to determine the two raffle winners. The outcomes were nearly as bizarre as the confusion over the Best Picture Academy Award the following night: When it came time to give away a large bowl painted with a rooster by Gardiner artist Annie O’Neill, a small girl drew out the ticket and handed it to McKinney Burket, who announced in amazement, “Annie O’Neill won her own bowl! She’s been a volunteer here for 20 years.” As if that were not enough of a coincidence, eleven-year-old Campbell Heiz of New Paltz pulled out a ticket for the second raffle — and it had his own name on it. Campbell went home with another large, beautiful bowl, this one thrown by local volunteer Rachel Dubicki and slipcast and painted with a traditional Oaxacan design by Minerva Ayon, a WSW ceramics intern from Mexico.

As usual at the Chili Bowl Fiesta, a spicy good time was had by all. For information on how to get involved in volunteering for next year’s event, or on how to sign up for a ceramics class, visit the WSW website at www.wsworkshop.org.

Linda Harrington of Ulster Park (who plays Sinterella in Kingston’s Sinterklaus Parade) holds up her favorite bowl at the Women’s Studio Workshop’s Chili Bowl Fest last Saturday at SUNY Ulster.

Two of the founders of Women’s Studio Workshop Anita Wetzel and Ann Kalmbach at the Chili Bowl Fest last Saturday at SUNY Ulster.

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