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Meet Cindy Best of Little Bear Pottery & A.R.T.S.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cindy Best.

Cindy, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I actually started as a pediatric physical therapist who never went to art school because it wasn’t “a practical choice”. I worked in children’s hospitals and rehab. centers throughout New England for 20 years. During that time, I always took pottery and art classes for my own “art therapy”. It was the birth of my second child that inspired me to start Little Bear Pottery, and later the non-profit A.R.T.S.. He was diagnosed with the Autism Spectrum and I needed more flexible work.

I started hand painting house plates for a bank and some local realtors to give as closing gifts. In addition, I began teaching pottery classes to children and adults, as well as creating adaptive art classes and summer camps for my son and other children with special needs. Little Bear pottery was born, eventually expanding to include custom tile work, hand-built sinks, award plates for local organizations, woodworking, and sewing classes.

Years later, A.R.T.S.: Adaptive art, Respite. & Therapeutic play Services became an official non -profit in the state of NH. A.R.T.S. was created to offer extracurricular activities and summer camp programs to children and adults with special needs. A.R.T.S. was designed to help each student identify their strengths, incorporate therapeutic (OT, PT, speech & behavioral) goals into their art projects, develop recreational activities, practice peer interactions and explore vocational skills.

We offer paid summer camp positions for our teens and have started The A.R.T.S. Job Cooperative to create work and internship opportunities with employers in our community. In addition, I travel to the local schools, preschool through High School, to provide Adaptive Art Classes to their special needs students.

Just last year, I published the book MEET ME WHERE I’M AT with Future Horizons, publisher of Autism Resources. The book was inspired by the many gifted and spirited children I work with at A.R.T.S. and the two incredible sons I’ve raised. The title comes from the perspective of a child with special needs and serves a reminder to meet him where he is at… not where you would like him to be… because for him, that place can change from moment to moment.

This book was originally created as a visual tool for my son’s “toolbox”. When my son was young, I knew he needed a guidebook in order for his teachers to understand him. As he grew older, I wanted him to have a way to inform each teacher, coach, or adult he encountered along his journey that this is how he is wired. This book enabled him to advocate for himself.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has definitely not been a smooth road, but I firmly believe anything worth doing takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. The struggles are what make us who we are and help us realize what we are made of. There were a lot of struggles: a divorce, parenting two boys on my own, raising a child with special needs, leaving the security of a steady paycheck, creating flexible work, starting two businesses with no money.

But looking back, I am so grateful for all of it… and for the amazing family and friends who supported us along the way. I have two sons, who have grown into amazing men. I have incredible parents who supported us every step of the way. I have girlfriends who picked me up and dusted me off every time I fell. I have a peaceful little log cabin in the woods. I have meaningful work, where I get to create every day with gifted and spirited students of all ages. And finally, after 13 years, I can call it a living.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Little Bear Pottery & A.R.T.S. – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Little Bear Pottery specializes in the creation of custom tiles and clay murals. Plants, branches & dragonflies are fired directly into the clay, along with glass, sand & stones to create an indoor garden or regional view. Surrounding wall colors, countertops, cabinets and flooring influence glaze selection. Tiles are installed to give a floating effect against the wall. Hand built sinks can be made to coordinate with the tiles or re-purpose a unique piece of furniture.

Another Little Bear Pottery specialty is hand glazed house plates. I work from photographs to hand paint a customer’s home and landscape on a dinner plate. Personalized wording can be added, and plates are either shipped directly to the customer or given as a closing gift by the bank, mortgage company or realtor. Individual and small group classes are offered for clay, and sewing to students of all ages. Summer Art Camps for children are held in July and August. We offer small birthday parties and the occasional Ladies Nights Out.

Adaptive Art classes for children and adults with special needs are offered through the non-profit A.R.T.S.: Adaptive art, Respite & Therapeutic play Services. The lesson is 1 on 1 with a pediatric physical therapist turned ceramic artist. Projects are adapted to each student’s abilities, taking into consideration individual challenges. Creating with clay, wood, fabric, and paint can be a sensory experience, build upper body strength & coordination, challenge the imagination, teach emotional flexibility & promote multitasking.

The goal is for each student to experience these benefits while having fun creating functional projects. Students can also work with 1 instructor and 1 peer to encourage interactive & cooperative play skills. We also hold a 1-week Adaptive Art Camp for children with special needs the last week of June. There are two sessions, one for younger campers focusing on school readiness and one for older campers focusing on recreation and vocational skills.

Everything we offer both at Little Bear Pottery and A.R.T.S. sets us apart from other art businesses and non-profits. What we offer is unique and created out of meeting the needs of children, adults, and organizations in our community. Our students and their creativity fuel not only what we offer, but where we expand to next. All of our classes are held BY APPOINTMENT ONLY for 2 reasons: 1, I am a one-woman operation (with the exception of camps) and 2, to allow you to create a class that meets your needs. This helps me to offer the best creative experience possible.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
In all honesty, I can only expand so much as a one-woman operation. I prefer to keep my businesses small and personal. I’ve had commercial spaces and a few employees in the past, but I have found that the creative experience offered a Little Bear Pottery and A.R.T.S. is what it is because of who I am as a person and how I like to teach classes. I also love having my businesses nestled in the barn next door to my little log cabin in the woods. It adds to the experience by creating a magical feel that you just can’t accomplish on a commercial site. So, no big changes. I love how my business has evolved and want to keep that personal feel.

I would love to keep adding new mediums for students to experience. I have started exploring some resin and glass art with some of my students. In addition, I blacksmith at the local historical society and would love to build a forge on site so students could experience that! I would LOVE to see more local businesses get involved in The A.R.T.S. Job Cooperative so our special needs teens and young adults can gain work and internship experience. On a more personal note, I’d love to publish another book. I am currently working on MEET ME AS AN ADULT for teens and young adults with special needs.

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