For this week’s Made in Arkansas, AY About You talked to Chris Swasta, the artisan behind Rolling Hills Pottery.
Swasta began the year carefully preparing for a massive multimedia art exhibit at the Thea Foundation. Working in collaboration with local macrame artist Hannah Genevieve, Swasta created a more than 6,000 piece floor installation. Made entirely of clay coils, the installation is “an abstract version of a coral reef,” according to Swasta.
The installation was supposed to be unveiled in April, but had to be rescheduled due to the coronavirus. Although Swasta now has to wait until February 2021 for his art show, he has continued to make art, and has added even more pieces to the coral reef.
Swasta fell in love with making ceramics five years ago. He was in his final semester of college in McCook, Nebraska, when he took his first pottery class, and he has been crafting ever since.
“I’d always done 2D art, but the 3D aspect of pottery was totally different for me,” Swasta says. “Wheel throwing kind of got me hooked.”
Swasta continued to create after returning to Little Rock in 2016 and enrolled in pottery classes at the Arkansas Arts Center. He now teaches their ceramics classes as well for children aged 10-18. He sells his art as Rolling Hills Pottery. The name references both the rolling hills of Nebraska, where his journey with pottery began, and the act of hand rolling clay to make coils. His work includes mugs, bowls, and flower vases, which all allow the owner to interact with the art that they purchase.
“I like making functional pottery because people can actually use it, and it allows the person who buys it to form a connection with me in a way,” Swasta says.
The process of creating ceramics is an intensive, “industrial process” according to Swasta, and each piece can take him as long as three weeks to finish. After molding each piece from clay on a wheel or by hand, Swasta fires the ceramics at 1,945 degrees. During the next step, Swasta adds a glaze to his work, which is what gives the final product its shiny, beautiful final color. The ceramics are then fired one last time in a kiln at 2,000 degrees. Swasta can do all of this from his home, where he has a fully functioning home studio.
Although the pandemic cancelled Arts Center classes and postponed his art installation, Swasta keeps crafting. Rolling Hills Pottery has been available for purchase at Nexus Coffee & Creative for more than a year, and Swasta hinted that a maker’s sale might be opening in November in the River Market, so keep an eye out on where you can buy your own ceramics for the holidays.