Even having lived through the civil war in Lebanon, Aline Karpoyan had a happy childhood growing up in Beirut where her family emigrated from Armenia. She lived with her parents and three siblings among a close knit Armenian community in the safer parts of the city, and when she graduated from high school at sixteen she went directly into a career she loved as a kindergarten teacher.
Kindergarten wasn’t easy. “I taught at a private Christian school, and they (kindergarteners) learned writing, addition and three languages: Armenian, Arabic and English. As a first grader I remember I had a backpack that was heavier than me,” She shakes her head: “There is no need for that much pressure.” When she married Steve, the couple decided to raise their family on safer soil in the U.S., and immigrated first to Maryland. She was just 20 then, and three years later they moved to
Benicia, where her husband took a job in an environmental engineering firm. Their first daughter, Nirvana, was a toddler, and Aline found work as a teacher’s aid at St. Dominic Elementary School.
“As soon as we came to Benicia we felt a lot of freedom,” says Aline. “I was in heaven with a two-year old child. We walked down to First Street, and the library had an amazing storyteller with puppets. The library and parks felt so safe.”
Since childhood she has been making art, and creating things with her hands. “I’m a creative person with my whole being!” So, when her mother moved in with them in 1998, Aline took a chance and followed her passion. With the encouragement of her husband, she opened Artcentric in a studio across from Big O Tires on East Military, and hosted art classes for kids. The classes were an immediate success, and soon she moved her business downtown.
For almost 20 years now, Artcentric, at 733 First Street, remains a warm and welcoming space for adults and children to enjoy pottery painting, glass fusing and mosaics. The studio hosts a range of classes and is available for drop-in time. Aline also believes in connecting community, having spawned the idea of the annual Parade of Pigs (painted ceramic piggy banks distributed around town) to benefit the Benicia Education Foundation. “More than anything, it's a happy, safe, creative outlet for families and children,” she says. “We don’t just sell pottery, we make memories.”
Her daughters Nirvana and Araz (the name of a river in Armenia) are in their twenties now, but they are still the center of her universe. That’s the Armenian way she says, everything revolves around the success of their children. A quote by Aline’s favorite Armenian American writer, William Saroyan, also speaks to her personal journey: “It is simply in the nature of the Armenian to study, to learn, to question, to speculate, to discover, to revise, to restore, to preserve, to make, and to give.”