Maker City KC

Crown & Heart: How a KC art teacher turned her hobby into a thriving jewelry business

Sara Kharatyan discovered her passion for art while she was a student in the Park Hill School District.

“I had really amazing high school art teachers who I admired and looked up to, so I decided to take that path myself,” Kharatyan says. “It ended up being my dream job, so I think I’ve been pretty lucky.”

She pursued her passion by attending a pre-college program at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and earning her undergraduate degree from Missouri State University. While living in Springfield, she also pursued her passion for singing.

“I was in a band called Jesse James Wax Museum,” Kharatyan says. “We didn’t get famous, but you can still find our music out there on the internet somewhere.”

After moving back to Kansas City, Kharatyan accepted a job as an art teacher at her alma mater school district, Park Hill. After experiencing some burnout, she decided she needed a creative outlet, and Crown & Heart jewelry was born.

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“I wasn’t feeling motivated to make my own work after teaching all day, so I needed a project,” she says. “I had started making ceramic jewelry for myself, but after I went to The Strawberry Swing for the first time, I realized that it could be bigger than that. It was really inspiring to see so many local artists in one place. It was the first time it felt attainable to be both a teacher and an artist.”

Her maiden name is Crownhart, so her business name is a play on her family’s namesake.

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Her emphasis in school was painting, primarily portraits. She also worked a lot with colored pencils. She took a few ceramics classes in college, but didn’t have significant knowledge or experience when she started Crown & Heart, and says she had never made a piece of jewelry in her life.

There was a lot of trial and error in the beginning of her business, and she’s still learning a lot in the process. Kharatyan gets inspired easily, and is drawn to a lot of different aesthetics. She is constantly looking at artwork to use in her lesson planning, and gets pulled in many directions: non-western art, then contemporary painting, then Native American pottery, then a random artist she saw on Instagram.

Her medium is porcelain, primarily because it is white and lightweight. She rolls out large slabs and cuts the pieces out, usually a few hundred at a time. When the pieces have dried, she applies glazes directly on the greenware. Her favorite technique is painting patterns with underglaze. Underglazes are true to color, they don’t run, and they layer easily just like traditional paints.

When she makes a new collection, Kharatyan spends a lot of time researching and sketching out her ideas. She draws the pieces first, combining shapes, colors, and patterns. After the pieces come out of a bisque fire, Kharatyan applies luster overglazes to some designs, combining brass and cotton elements to add more texture to the final pieces. The entire assembly process can be really experimental, especially if the pieces don’t turn out the way she envisioned.

“That is probably the thing I love most about the process, it is creative from start to finish,” Kharatyan says. “I tend to get into a rut easily in situations that are too repetitive or predictable. Working on such a small scale gives me a lot of room to experiment and be creative, and it really fuels my soul.”

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When asked what impresses her most about the Maker Movement, Kharatyan says she loves how Kansas City makes it so attainable to be an artist.

“I started out thinking I’d do a few shows a year just to satisfy my creativity, and now this business has allowed me to transition to part-time teaching,” Kharatyan says. “I never imagined I’d have that flexibility. It’s pretty amazing how the city supports its makers.

Her advice to up-and-coming Makers is to do a lot of research on your ideal customer.

“Finding the right demographic for your product is half the battle,” she says.

You can find Crown & Heart online and at the following retail locations: Mid Coast Modern, Shop Kemper, The Bunker, and inside SouveNEAR machines at the airport.

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