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69-year-old named Arkansas Living Treasure for his dedication to the craft of pottery

Kimbo’s lifelong passion and dedication to potter has not only added to his family's heritage, but to the heritage of Arkansas.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — “This is what I do," James "Kimbo" Dryden said. "This is what I’ve always done.”

Meet Kimbo.

“I’m old school," Kimbo said. "The highest tech thing I have is a bicycle.”

A potter who was put to work by his dad at the age of 10.

“This was all I could do. I was too dumb to do anything else.”

His father, Jimmy, started Dryden Pottery in Ellswoth, Kansas, later moving to the business to Hot Springs in 1956.

“He was walking around in his hometown after the war, wondering what he was gonna do, he didn’t want to work at his father’s hardware store,” Kimbo said.

Kimbo first started his training using a kick wheel, and in 1970 studied his craft at Big Creek Pottery School.

“The teachers always said I was hyperactive and overactive imagination," he said. "And I think back now, ‘well that’s the perfect potter.'”

He later rejoined his father at the factory, creating mugs, vases, plates and more.

“Somebody asked me the other day, they go ‘which part do you like, the throwing, the glazing, making the clay?’ and I thought for a while ‘I don’t like any of it – its just what I do,” Kimbo laughed.

Now in 2022, Kimbo has been named an Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council for his dedication to the craft of pottery. 

The Arkansas Living Treasure program annually recognizes an Arkansas creative who excels in the creation of a traditional craft or folk art and who preserves and advances their craft through community outreach and teaching others.

Kimbo was chosen by an independent panel of judges and was honored at a ceremony on May 20.

“I was like there’s a lot better potters than me, what are you talking about?" Kimbo asked. "And I guess it’s just because I’ve been doing it for so long, ever since I was a kid.”

His son, Zack Dryden, is following is in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, continuing the generational creativity.

“If It wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here," Kimbo said of his son. "The factory wouldn’t be here. He built all of these tables, he fixed the roof when it started leaking. He’s... I can’t say enough.”

Dryden said he enjoys making the people happy that come in here their space to get their pottery.

"I’ve had people walk out of here in tears, thanking me for my art work,” Dryden said.

Celebrating the cultural significance of the arts in Arkansas, even if we have to close our eyes to do it.

“You guy’s still here?," Kimbo said as he was making a pot blindfolded. “You walk off and I look up and there’s nobody there. I should do this more often, in case I go blind." 

For more information about the Arkansas Living Treasure Award visit the Arkansas Arts Council’s website at www.arkansasarts.org.

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