For Xavier Gonzalez the seat of contentment, the root of joy, the very meaning of life, is at the potter’s wheel.
"When I was in high school, I had a job as a janitor. I’d clean up the bathroom all nice on Monday, and by Tuesday I’d have to do it all again. And again Wednesday, and again and again," he recalled earlier this month from his bench at the wheel. "Here, what I make is going to be in someone’s house, and it’s going to be around for a long time."
That bench Gonzalez inhabited is located at the Hawaii Potters Guild. The longtime California ceramist sat for long hours over three days, throwing some 550 bowls for the group’s Empty Bowl fundraiser slated for next spring. The guild’s goal, along with other Honolulu ceramics groups, is to make 3,000 bowls.
Empty Bowl offers the public gourmet soup, cooked by isle chefs, in donated handmade ceramic bowls. Funds generated will assist Hawaii Meals on Wheels and the River of Life Mission.
Gonzalez, who runs a successful business selling his pots, has owned a condo in Kona for a number of years. "But I’d get frustrated and bored, and I’d have to leave Hawaii early. I need to do pottery."
What Gonzalez really needed, however, was a community of potters. And he found that in Hawaii in January, after being solicited by Potters Guild member Pam Tagariello to teach a workshop. Gonzalez travels the country doing just that.
"I said, ‘Sure, why not? I’m literally in the neighborhood,’" he said. "And I just blended in real easily. People here are friendly and very, very kind."
After hearing about Empty Bowl, Gonzalez threw about 80 bowls and offered to come back to throw as many bowls as the guild could wedge clay (wedging is forming the clay into balls). He scheduled his marathon at the wheel to coincide with renovation work he’s doing on his Kona condo. The group wedged more than 600 pounds of recycled clay, comprising scraps from other projects.
Gonzalez produces 20 to 30 bowls an hour. In his younger days, he said, he could throw a bowl a minute.
GONZALEZ IS a warm, friendly man with sparkling eyes and a ready smile. No doubt some of his happiness comes from finding his calling so early in life.
"I took an art class in high school and entered a contest, and I won. I sold the first pot I ever made. I was 17 and a half," he said. "I’ve been in business since 1973. I took over my parents’ garage, then when I moved out I rented a house and made it into a studio. In college I used the university’s facilities. It was all makeshift."
Since then Gonzalez has run his business in various parts of California.
The potter realizes his good fortune, and he’s ready and willing to jump on a good cause, especially when it involves his life’s passion.
"A couple of years ago, my folks passed, and they left me a lot. Now all I can do is be generous," he said. "Empty Bowl is an easy one. Heck, I’ll just visit friends and throw pots!"
"Xavier’s a very enthusiastic person," said Sidney Lynch, president of the Potters Guild. "He kept teasing us, saying we were wusses, but when he saw the 600 pounds of clay, his jaw kinda dropped. He’s a very good potter and very willing to share. He’s a good guy, very sincere."
Lynch also said the ceramist is thinking of throwing more pots for Empty Bowl on a return trip at the end of summer.
Evidence of Gonzalez’s most recent act of good will were jam-packed into the guild’s cozy space. Numerous shelves had been designated for his work, the rows of bowls amazingly uniform. Out in the sun, dozens of pots, made the day prior, were set on wooden planks where they were to dry in the intense heat.
"I like to look at all the pots I throw," the artist said. "At the end of the day, where there were empty shelves, the racks are full.
"I love throwing pots. The wheel goes around in circles, and I’m happy."