From Air Force Staff Sergeant to Harrisburg potter and everything in between

Photo Submitted By Andrea Swift
Story By Christina Heintzelman

“Follow your bliss, find where it is and don’t be afraid to follow it. The universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”- Joseph Campbell

Life moves us in many directions but if you choose to follow your bliss you will always find yourself moving forward on your personal path. Andrea Swift, a Harrisburg area transplant from Ohio can attest to that. “I was a military brat of Army origin who joined the Air Force right after high school for a ten-year tour of duty,” she says. After 9/11, she decided to leave the military and enroll at Youngstown State University and work toward a degree in education for teaching math and English. She and her husband moved to Maryland, and she got her first teaching position with a class of 7th graders. Swift decided to pursue her master’s degree and then taught another year after that at the high school level. At this point, following her bliss was not part of Swift’s equation.

But fate intervened when her husband took a job with Penn State Health, which required a move to the Harrisburg area. Swift got her PA registration for teaching but, since the school year had already started, she was not able to find a job.

A gift from her sister of an ugly face mug brought Swift squarely to the path towards her bliss. “I had always collected pottery, but this ugly face mug made me realize that not only did I appreciate pottery – I wanted to create it.” She took an 8-week pottery class and then moved on with studio time to increase her knowledge of the processes.

In February of 2017 Swift had bought her own wheel and created a space in her home for a studio. A kiln was soon added, and her business began in earnest. “I realized I wanted a pottery business and would never return to teaching.” At first, she was able to only sell enough work to cover her supply cost. In December 2017, Swift opened a market site on Etsy and then her business began to blossom. Swift also began doing a few pop-ups at local art shows in 2018 but realized how much work went into setting up and then closing down these often only one day shows.

Another sense that she was on the right path for her bliss happened the following year when Swift’s sister-in-law, who lives in York County, gave fellow church member, Crystal Strous, one of Swift’s mugs. Crystal is the mother of Amanda Strous, a young counselor to college students who was murdered in her apartment in North Carolina. Crystal saw in that mug purple hearts running through the glaze, which to her represented the bravery and dedication her daughter had shown throughout her brief life both in sports competition at Dallastown High School and Shippensburg U, and her work with college students’ mental health issues. Crystal reached out to Swift for 3 more mugs to sell to raise money for the FlyHigh22 Foundation which was set up to provide funds to support mental health counseling and art therapy, support women who are victims of violence, and support those pursuing higher education in mental health counseling. The following year, an order was placed for 120 mugs which would be sold during a foundation fashion show fundraiser. Covid hit, the fundraiser was cancelled, and things looked dismal until Whitney Morgan, owner of York’s Collage Shop, decided she could sell them in her store. This now exclusive mug series is still sold only in Collage Shop bi-annually during Christmas and again at Mother’s Day, with a portion of the sales always going to FlyHigh22 Foundation.

Another serendipitous event happened when Amy Kominsky of Mulberry Public Affairs based in Pittsburgh, PA, reached out to Swift after seeing her work on Instagram and Facebook. Mulberry Public Affairs, a woman owned business, connects small businesses that are using social media as a way of marketing and growing their businesses.  Kominsky reached out to Harrisburg Magazine – yes through social media – and introduced the writer of this article to Swift to provide some local publicity, and as you can see it worked quite well!

Swift says of her work, “I produce functional work rather than decorative pieces, the decorating comes in the glazes that I am always experimenting with in my work.” She adds, “The universe is my muse in replicating how crystal looks or any other magic that may occur when the glazes drip. For me it is Christmas whenever I open the kiln after firing my glazed pieces as each one is a unique and often unexpected gift.” She then adds, “When you follow your bliss everything opens. There is no need to feel as if you are in competition with other businesses, the world is big enough for all of us and social media allows us to connect from all over the world.”

Andrea Swift’s contacts are through Facebook – Pottery By Andrea, Instagram – @potterybyandrea, Etsy – PotteryByAndrea and her website

FlyHigh22 is a project of The Foundation for Enhancing Communities (TFEC) and supports mental health counseling and art therapy, services to women who are victims of violence, and supports those pursuing higher education in mental health counseling.