BY JACLYN ROSE –
Rick and Donna Chrisman are both natives of Texas who met while working at a steel company in Dallas. Rick’s father was born and raised in Polk County and Rick spent many of his vacations back in Arkansas. In 1980, when the Chrisman’s married they bought 20 acres outside of Hatfield, Arkansas, to be used as their private getaway. “We had a little log cabin with no power or water, we loved getting away from the Metroplex,” explained Donna.
In 1986, Rick began woodworking out of their garage and when that business took off, Donna joined him and they moved permanently to Polk County. For twenty years the couple worked together and spent all twenty-four hours in the day in each other’s company. In their woodworking business, the Chrisman’s build plywood platters that are used to serve fajitas on at both Chili’s and On the Border Restaurants, a contract they still manage today. Additionally, they built reproduction jewelry boxes that they sold wholesales to stores.
After working with wood for most of their marriage, the physical demands were beginning to take a toll and the couple looked in to the idea of mixing their love of uniquely flavored foods, layers upon layers upon layers of flavor, according to Donna, with their knowledge and love of art and the craft industry. Through that combination, in 2013, American Artisans was born.
Located at 615 Mena Street in downtown Mena, American Artisans sells art throughout their restaurant from artists around the world, many from Arkansas. Their gallery is open from 10 am until 5 pm, Wednesday through Saturday. Their restaurant, which is open the same days from 11 am until 3 pm, serves all of Donna’s recipes, with all of the spreads and salad dressings made in house, the food is fresh and homemade. Donna did not grow up with a love of cooking and creating new recipes but learned out of necessity. “When we moved here and lived 30 minutes away from everything I had to learn to cook,” said Donna with a laugh. “I watched the cooking channel and food network.” “We also took the Rich Mountain Community College Culinary Course,” added Rick. Recently, American Artisans was named one of the Top Ten New Places in Arkansas, according to Only in Your State. They were also featured in an article in Arkansas Living last July.
The Chrismans, as well as American Artisans, work closely with the Mena Art Gallery, as well as the other businesses located in Mena’s Historic Downtown Art District. Together, along with the city of Mena, those business have worked to improve the overall image of Downtown Mena, and bring both local consumers, and tourists to their area. Rick sits as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Mena Art Gallery and a strong influence in the Ouachita Arts Celebration. The annual festival, held in early November of this year, brought in a large amount of talented artists who shared their trades with the community. According to the Chrismans, the success of this year’s festival “blew their minds” and they are very pleased with the growth of the Celebration.
“We enjoy the isolation here, and the beauty, the county and the climate,” said Donna. “We miss the choices, but not the city and we are thankful for all the friends we have met,” added Rick.