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A mark of a great teacher is the lifelong pursuit of learning.
Chris Swasta of Sherwood-based Rolling Hills Pottery takes this idea to heart, as he continually looks for ways to grow his artistic footprint.
Originally from North Little Rock, Swasta has been doing ceramics full-time for nearly ten years. It started in a small town in Nebraska, where he attended college for three years. He moved back to Arkansas in 2016 and began taking classes at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (formerly the Arkansas Arts Center) in Little Rock. “I worked my way from being a student to a ceramics instructor,” he explained.
He has been teaching at AMFA since 2019. He teaches the youth ceramics classes, which cover grades six through 12, and has also taught a few online courses during the pandemic. “I can’t recall mainly how that came about, but I think one day I was showing a few fellow students how to make production handles to mugs — meaning many at once, and the right person walked by at the right time, and a few days later I was asked to teach,” he said.
The pandemic was also the impetus for his pottery workshop model, which has remained popular. “Schools and studios were still shut down, and I wanted to reach out. I felt like I had a moral obligation to teach and keep the craft alive to those who had no access to it. Because of that, I now offer monthly pottery workshops and private pottery parties for groups of friends and families that want to do something fun. No matter who you are, you always remember fun experiences, especially when you get back something of your own making that lasts forever.”
Kelly VanHook of Searcy has seen this fun firsthand. An abstract painter, VanHook has co-hosted a pop-up shop featuring Arkansas artists twice a year since 2017 at her home. Swasta was one of the guest artists at the most recent April event. “When he participated in the pop-up with us, we got the idea to do a pottery class, and I’ve already scheduled a second one on June 29, which is full,” VanHook said.
This sense of artistic community is something Swasta seeks to cultivate. “In my experience in being in this wonderful community — especially in a setting like the [AMFA] Museum School with more than 200 potters — it’s a group of people who supports and encourages one another. The art form itself has a way of creating and connecting bonds with other artists. Everyone has their own style of making; therefore, everyone has a voice in the community, and whether it’s through teaching, taking classes, exhibitions, etc. — this community is always growing.”
Expanding access to this art form is also one of Swasta’s goals, so events like this tie in well.
Swasta has also recently expanded his professional resume in yet another way. The owners of Flora Jean’s on Third reached out to him to create some of the tableware for their restaurant that opened at the beginning of the year in downtown Little Rock. “Flora Jean’s is a special place because it’s my first restaurant commission ever,” he said. “With my business Rolling Hills Pottery, I am known mainly for making dinner and kitchenware. The owners of both Flora Jean’s and At the Corner in Little Rock and I have already been familiar with each other’s work because I have a retail space just a block away, thanks to Nexus Coffee & Creative. The commission itself makes up a 150-piece set of bowls and cups — carefully designing and making test samples of shapes and colors beforehand to ensure satisfaction of the end result. It took a few months —non-consecutive — to complete.”
Flora Jean’s and At the Corner are known for their emphasis on local ingredients, and co-owner Helen Grace King was heavily involved in the project. “We got to design them,” King said. Pots for succulents serve as table centerpieces, and the handle-less mugs are used for lattes, including their noted beet root latte. “We like to hold it with both hands, and it has holes for your fingers,” she said. “He was able to bring our design to fruition.”
Nexus, a coffee shop in downtown Little Rock, also uses his mugs for serving hot drinks. “That is a very special place to me,” he said. “It is my very first partnership and retail space that allows me to display my work — my voice. Amy Counce and Matteo Moorehead are the daughter/father owners of the coffee shop, and they have a great sense of community and love of the local arts scene here in central Arkansas. I am known for making dinner and kitchenware, especially coffee mugs, so forming the partnership and retail just made sense. That and I guess they liked my work enough to use behind the bar. Nexus is like family.”
Swasta plans to expand his workshop and class programs to include both hand building and wheel throwing. He will be offering individual and couples wheel throwing workshops very soon. His long-term goal is to have his own storefront where he can offer workshops and classes as well as retail pottery from local potters throughout Arkansas. For now, people can find his work exclusively at Nexus Coffee & Creative and Bella Vita Jewelry in Little Rock. He is always accepting large commissions and will be offering wholesale eventually.
Those interested in hosting or participating in a Rolling Hills Pottery workshop can contact him at email@example.com.
If you are interested in supporting other Arkansas pottery artists check these out!
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