Amid the hustle and bustle of raising a young family and teaching elementary school art, Sara Kharatyan sneaks away to her kiln.
It’s her quiet place; a spot just for her, tucked away in her Parkville home. And what started as a hobby is now padding her family’s bank account in unexpected ways.
“The business idea was really just to kind of hold me accountable,” said Kharatyan, owner of Crown & Heart.
Her early days as an artist-turned-entrepreneur formally began in 2017, though the venture’s seemingly Kansas City-rich name has been with her since birth — derived from her maiden name: Crownheart.
“I realized that it was more than just having accountability. It was my job now,” she added, recalling the day a fellow teacher approached her about starting a job share that empowered her to spend 50 percent of her time teaching art and the other 50 percent bringing Crown & Heart to life — largely in the form of handmade, hand-painted ceramic jewelry designed to dance between fun and professional — pieces that have taken Kansas City by storm.
“It’s funny because [when we look at famous artists in art class] I have kids ask, ‘Are you a famous artist?’ and of course I say no. But I do now get to make the distinction and say, ‘No, but I am a professional artist.’”
The venture proves an interesting intersection for Kharatyan, who now regularly sees her students outside the classroom at local art shows and craft fairs like the Strawberry Swing — the indie craft showcase that first inspired Kharatyan to publicly release her creative energy, she said.
“I’ve had kids come to school wearing my jewelry or their parents will buy from me. And now that a lot of my school community knows that I do this and a lot of the kids know that I do it, they always ask me — when I’m wearing my earrings — if I made them. It’s really cute to see their reaction,” Kharatyan said, looking back on moments that have made her journey as a maker more meaningful.
“It is a neat way to kind of show them that art can be for everyone. And you don’t necessarily have to be in a museum to be a real artist — as they would say.”
And while Kansas Citians won’t find Kharatyan’s whimsically bold and color-rich pieces on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, they are daily on the auction block thanks to a slew of local stockists that include shelf space at Midcoast Modern and Made in KC.
“Kansas City has been amazing. Not just with the events like Strawberry Swing, but Made in KC and all of the local shops that support local artists and makers,” she said of her experience in the metro’s maker space.
“I’ve just found that people in Kansas City really want to support artists in Kansas City. And I don’t know that that’s true for a lot of other cities — especially in the Midwest.”
Click here to shop the latest Crown & Heart creations online or for a full list of retailers.
Kharatyan is eager to test the limits as she eyes entrepreneurial expansion, she said.
“I feel like I do a lot of events in Kansas City and I’ve sold wholesale to a lot of stores in Kansas City. [I’d like to] maybe break out of that and maybe expand my demographic … but I would like to maintain what I’m doing now,” she said, forward-looking but adamant that — no matter how successful the endeavor proves — Crown & Heart won’t ever become her top priority.
“I would like for the business to grow, but I also don’t want it to overtake my life. I still want to be able to teach part-time. And I still want to have flexibility in the time that I have with my family.”
Grateful for the support she’s received, the business has always been a hobby of the heart — anything other than that isn’t true to Kharatyan’s character, she said.
“I can be a little bit looser with it and I can experiment and if I make things and they don’t turn out great, it’s OK. I don’t beat myself up about it,” she laughed. “My studio is in my house. My kiln is in my house. There’s not a whole lot of pressure. … I don’t have to make x amount of money doing this.”
While the added income is nice — more than making up for the gap left by choosing to cut her hours in the classroom — Crown & Heart has given Kharatyan something more valuable in the form of a creative platform, she noted.
“A lot of teachers start to feel kind of burned out. [This business] has definitely made me feel more inspired. I have creative time alone — time to kind of recharge my introvert self and my creative self. It’s made my life overall more balanced,” Kharatyan said, noting the opportunity to own her own business also helped her navigate the world of motherhood — with many of Crown & Heart’s pieces inspired by a fondness for flair that pairs nicely with the minimalist style she adopted after having kids.
“[For awhile] I kind of focused all of my energy and attention into teaching and being a new mom. My personality always needs to be productive. I needed some outside influence to help me make my own art,” she said. “It’s definitely made me feel more inspired.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.