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After a tornado ripped through Berea in 1996, destroying several artists’ shops, area artisans, city officials and representatives from local universities gathered to develop a plan for an artisan center to revitalize the community and keep the city’s important crafts industry alive. Over time the project became a state project developed by the Tourism Development Cabinet in partnership with the Education, Arts and Humanities, Finance, and Transportation Cabinets. In 2003, the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea opened with the dual mission of providing a venue to showcase and offer for-sale products made by Kentucky artisans, authors, musicians, and specialty food producers and to serve as a gateway to tourism in Kentucky. Located just off I-75 at Exit 77, the Center is the only full service travel stop along I-75 in Kentucky. In 2012, the Center welcomed its two millionth visitor. The limestone in the building is Kentucky limestone, and the stonemasons who laid it were all Kentucky stonemasons. Though it appears to be a cluster of individual buildings, it is in fact one continuous structure containing areas dedicated to travel information display, sales of artisan works, and dining. The architects have described the 20,000 square foot building as having the look of an older barn that has been updated. In its design and construction, the Center exemplifies the high-quality Kentucky artisanry it was created to display. The art glass windows were designed and created by Kenneth Von Roenn of Louisville. On permanent display in the lobby are three enormous handblown glass vessels made by Stephen Rolfe Powell of Danville and a metal wall sculpture created by Berea blacksmith, Jeff Farmer. The lobby always has a special exhibit, either medium or theme-based, and a display case of regional events. There are live demonstrations, readings, or performances every Saturday. The Center is free and open to the public every day (except holidays) from 9 am to 6 pm. Even the restrooms receive meticulous attention, with fresh cut flowers renewed daily.
In celebration of Berea College’s 150-year anniversary in 2005, the College made a gift to the City of Berea of a small sculpture park located at the site of Berea’s first school building, which was built in 1855. A later, brick building housed an elementary and high school on the very corner where the park stands now at the intersection of Chestnut, Fee, and Boone streets. Some of the bricks in the park’s walkway are from this building. Berea College President Larry Shin was able to secure donations to commission Stan Watts, a sculptor from Utah whose work was known to one of the major donors, to create five bronze statues. The goal was not just to honor Berea’s founder, John G. Fee, but to also tell the story of Kentucky’s first interracial and coeducational school. The group includes John G. Fee, holding a Bible, and Elizabeth Rogers, the school’s first teacher, showing the Declaration of Independence to an African American girl, while two boys, one white and one black, watch from a bench. The Bible in Fee’s hand is open to the Book of Acts, to the section that talks about Berea being a city that welcomed the gospel. This is the passage that inspired Fee to name the school he founded Berea. Elizabeth Rogers and her husband, the Reverend J.A.R. Rogers, came to Berea in 1858, shortly after the Fees. While the men were clearing land, Elizabeth began holding classes. Fee asked the American Methodist Association to pay Elizabeth the same amount they provided for the men and they complied. In 1859, the Fees and Rogerses were forced out of Berea under the threat of violence but continued to work toward establishment of the College during the Civil War. At the war’s end, J.A.R. and Elizabeth Rogers, the Fees and others returned to Berea and opened Berea Literary Institute, the forerunner of Berea College.
Founded in 1961, The Kentucky Guild of Artists & Craftsmen is the oldest arts organization in Kentucky working to preserve and promote the rich heritage and exciting future of art and craft. Membership is comprised of the finest artists, craftsmen, and supporting members in Kentucky and surrounding states. Although they are now headquartered in Berea, they began on two train cars that then Governor Bert T. Combs requisitioned from the L&N Railroad Company. The concept of a traveling arts guild was the brainchild of a group of artists and craftsmen including Lester Pross and Virginia Minish. The passenger coach was converted at Berea College to a demonstration workshop and a small apartment for the Director traveling with the Train. The baggage car was developed at the Kentucky Rail Museum in Louisville into an exhibition gallery. From 1961 to 1967 the KGAC “Guild Train” criss-crossed Kentucky, providing a rolling gallery, demonstrations, and workshops to help Kentucky artisans improve their products and make them more marketable. The trains provided the impetus for the development of numerous crafts cooperatives across the state. Today this statewide organization is headquartered in Berea’s Old Town Artisan Village, where they continue to provide the same services. Exhibits and demonstrations are open to the public alongside retail space featuring the work of Guild members. The Kentucky Guild Visual Arts Academy provides hands-on workshops lasting from one to five days. They also sponsor an annual fair in October.
It is the synergistic connection between the community of Berea and Berea College that continues to sustain Berea as a vibrant artisan community. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the 123 Gallery for Emerging Artists, the pilot program of the Arts Accelerator program. The program identifies graduating Berea College students who have demonstrated great talent, serious work ethic, and a desire to become working artisans. During the 16-month fellowship, the City of Berea provides a monthly stipend, studio space, and a general gallery space. MACED (Mountain Association for Community Economic Development) provides business training and assistance in developing a business plan for those who decide to stay in the community. The young artisans have the opportunity to set up at the Kentucky Craft Market with more experienced artisans from the community as their mentors. They are part of the Studio Artist program, welcoming visitors to observe them at work from 10 am to 5 pm, seven days a week. They provide demonstrations for school children on an Arts across the Curriculum field trip. The first set of “fellows” were hired in August 2014. Their first task was to renovate an abandoned gallery that had at one time been a casket factory, create studio and gallery space, and install equipment like kilns. They couldn’t have done it without the donations of time, expertise, and materials that flowed in from the community. The 123 Gallery opened on October 3, 2014. The Arts Accelerator program is more than a government-sponsored program – it is a community-supported effort to keep traditions alive. Click here for a video.
At the heart of the Old Town Artisan Center, the Berea Tourism Welcome Center is a lively place. The spacious front lawn is encircled by sculptures – 4 giant hands and a long, sprawling metal mythical beast. The hand directly in front of the Welcome Center is Yatsugatake by R.C.Thompson. Yatsugatake is a tribute to Berea’s long standing partnership with a sister city in Japan, with Mt. Fuji on one side and Pilot Knob on the other. Delegations, including many artists, exchange visits annually. The central portion of the lawn is kept open for activities like fire dancing on First Fridays or classes under a huge tent during the Festival of Learnshops. Classes are also held on the porch of the log cabin on the right side of the lawn, classes like Robin Reed’s popular Shiitake and Oyster Mushroom Log Inoculation. The cabin’s porch is the site for Jammin’ on the Porch every Thursday evening during the warm months. There is a steady stream of people in and out of the Welcome Center in the Historic L&N Depot. It’s the place to get the latest updates on what is happening around town, but there’s more to it than that. Every Wednesday, the Welcome Center Woodcarvers gather to swap stories and whittle. Visitors are welcome to join right in. On Thursdays Janet Northern demonstrates basket making from native materials that she harvests on her farm – honeysuckle vines and hickory bark – and explains her process and the traditions of basket making. The building houses exhibits of local art and artifacts from the days when it was an active passenger train depot, the only brick station between Lexington, KY and Nashville, TN. It was constructed in 1917 when the previous depot became too small to handle the amount of passengers and freight. Today up to 30 freight trains per day rumble past the depot, but they no longer stop. In 1975 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and purchased by the City of Berea. It has been renovated twice with great attention to preserving its historical integrity. In June train and model train enthusiasts gather at the Depot for L&N Day.
The Berea Arts Council (BAC) was organized in 1986 to focus the resources of Berea College and Berea’s extensive arts community on the need for arts in the larger community. In 2014, the Arts Council relocated from College Square to a new space in Old Town Artisan Village in an historic building that was once the Berea Hotel in the days when the L&N Railroad ran passenger trains to Berea. Their gallery and retail space is open from 10 am to 4 pm MondaySaturday and for special evening events. They are ideally situated to take part in the First Friday celebrations that enliven Old Town Artisan Village from spring through December. They have many public events and receptions throughout the year, such as the Community Arts and Young at Art exhibits in May and the Original Art…Original Gifts exhibit in December. In August they sponsor the Quilt Extravaganza and the Quilts with a Kick exhibit, with workshops, a vendor’s mall, and activities at Berea Community School. They have an outreach program to the public library, where they showcase one local artist each month, and to Saint Joseph’s Hospital, where selected pieces from their exhibits remain on display for an extended period. They have watercolor classes, children’s art programs, and rotating exhibits. In 2003, the Arts Council undertook a public art project called “Show of Hands.” They invited local artists to submit designs for painting or embellishing six-foot fiberglass hands, and local businesses and nonprofits sponsored twelve hands. Mano a Mano, the colorful hand that was painted by Alfredo Escobar, was sponsored by members of the Arts Council and stands at the Art Council’s side entrance to welcome visitors. Gwen Childs, director of the Arts Council, says that the hands represent not only the handmade arts and crafts of Berea, but also the community’s willingness to lend a helping hand.
The Berea Studio Artist Program invites visitors to experience the various stages of art production through educational graphics, text, and interaction with artists, as their work schedule permits. The studio artists have created space in their studios for visitors to observe them as they work, but they are not there as demonstrators. These are full-time, producing artists busy at work to fill orders and create inventory. This unique program gives visitors an insider’s view of how the creative process becomes visible. Watch for the Studio Artists at Work icon as you wander through town. With the exception of Student Crafts on the Square (which is in College Square), the Studio Artists are clustered in Old town Artisan Village, all within easy walking distance of one another. Click here for more information about the studio artists.
Hot Flash Beads
Jimmy Lou Jackson left the world of scientific discovery to make discoveries of her own, in the ancient art of lampworking: melting and manipulating glass without blowing air. Her beaded creations harkens back to a childhood love of marbles. Visitors to Honeysuckle Vine – a shop she co-owns with her sister Dinah Tyree – can watch Jimmy Lou heat-fuse intricate glass patterns into her beadwork and other designs.
- Nationally known for torch worked glass beads
- Earrings, bracelets, necklaces and more
- Watch the artist at work
Images of Santa
Lindy Evans began by designing dolls for family and friends. Her love has blossomed into a 20-year career as a professional doll maker. A former teacher and school administrator, she spent years studying people’s expressions and facial characteristics. Those experiences help Lindy sculpt polymer clay into amazingly life-like characters and Santa collectibles. Special touches like vintage fabrics and antique toys bring Santa and his Elves to life, making a believer of even the biggest skeptic.
- Original life-like characters
- Santa collectibles, elves
- Original characters from polymer clay
- Workshops available
Ken Gastineau’s interest in metal work and sculpture, combined with influences from travels to Europe and the American Southwest, help define his jewelry making and metal work. At Gastineau Studio, bars of lead-free pewter are melted and poured into molds created by Gastineau to produce jewelry, napkin rings and ornaments. Designs are taken from regional culture such as Shaker Tree of Life and horse motifs, and the natural world. Each piece is accompanied by a description or poem. Ken is a self-taught pewter spinner as well and creates lead-free pewter cups by spinning a pewter disc on a lathe. Ken, his wife Sally, and son Guy, with the help of their assistants, produce and sell their work throughout the country.
- Jewelry, ornaments, napkin ring holders
- Pewter cups – name engraving available
- Sign up for jewelry-making workshops
Weaver’s Bottom Craft Studio
As a weaving student at Berea College, Neil Colmer received a degree in Spanish and won the Sara Fuller Prize Loom, a high honor. The college promptly employed him as a weaver with Fireside Industries. He then left Berea College to set up the craft program for Fort Boonesborough State Park. A serious weaver for over four decades, he has woven cloth in wool, linen, and even mylar, but he prefers to work with cotton. Mary is renowned for her cornshuck dolls. She creates scenes and characters using natural products.
- Traditional style weaving: coverlets, rugs, towels…
- Three kinds of chair seats
- Cornshuck dolls, elf houses
- Custom orders welcome
The Weston Glass Studio
As a child, Michelle Weston spent hours studying tidal waters and sea creatures. Today she coaxes 2,000-degree glass into inspired forms like her signature starfish. Born in New Zealand, Michelle and her parents immigrated to the United States in her youth. She received a Master’s degree in Fine Art from Bowling Green State University, Ohio. Michelle’s goal is to provide high quality, handcrafted glass gift-ware at affordable prices. Each unique creation bears her signature and the date.
- Handcrafted glass gift-ware at affordable prices
- Glass ornaments, vases, starfish, pumpkins & more
- Blow your own ornament workshop – call for appointment.
Gilliam Gallery and Studio
A multi-talented artist, Diane Gilliam is a painter, stained glass artist and photographer. Her stained glass overlays combine her love of art glass and relief sculpture.
- Stained glass, fused glass, lamp worked beads
- Photographs, jewelry, woodworking
- Paintings, prints, cards, and bottle art
- Stained glass workshops – call for apt.
The Draper Building’s most striking feature is a central tower, which rises 154 feet. Although taller and more graceful, it is reminiscent of the central tower of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The projecting wings house classrooms and incorporate recessed arches and other features of Colonial Georgian architecture. Another distinctive feature is the small chapel inside Draper Building. Its stained glass windows are modeled after the windows of Sainte Chapelle in Paris. In the small anteroom to the chapel is a display case with a stone that was gifted to Berea College from the city of Berea (now spelled Veroia) in Greece, which is the namesake of Berea, KY. On the back side of building, below the stained glass windows, more special stones are set into the wall. Some of these stones come from significant places, such as the stone from the vicinity of Jesus’ carpenter shop in Nazareth. Other stones were gifts from significant people, like the stone gifted to Berea College by Mahatma Gandhi. A legend to the side identifies the stones and their significance. Built in 1938, Draper Building was renovated in 2000 for the installation of a 56-bell carillon. A carillon is similar to chimes but with more bells, allowing the player to achieve harmony and rhythm. It is played like a piano or organ. The bells hang stationary, and only the clappers move. The clappers are connected by a series of mechanical linkages to a keyboard in a playing room located directly below the bells. Berea College’s carillon is the largest in Kentucky, weighing 11 tons. The playing room is large enough to accommodate 15-20 people to observe the performance. During the summer months, carillon concerts are presented on the first or second Monday of each month at 7:30 pm, bringing worldrenowned carillonneurs to perform. Seating is provided in the College Quadrangle, and a video monitor allows the audience to see the player in action.
In 2015, a ceramic sculpture of a fish, created by Berea College graduate, Grace McKenzie, was installed in the small courtyard of the Draper Building where there is also a koi fish pond.
The construction of Phelps Stokes Chapel by students between 1903 and 1906 represented a turning point for Berea College. In 1902 the College’s second chapel, a wood-framed building in the Gothic style, burnt to the ground despite the valiant efforts of students who formed a bucket brigade to fight the fire. Olivia Stokes Phelps, one of the nation’s first independent women philanthropists, heard about the tragedy and offered to fund the construction of a new chapel – provided that it be built entirely by students. At that time, there were a few men at the College who taught carpentry and construction courses, but most student labor was unskilled. Students would have to develop skills on the job, not only in woodworking but also in brick laying and stonework. The College had a fledgling brick and tile-making plant, but to manufacture enough bricks to build the chapel designed by Ms. Phelps Stokes nephew, the College had to have two wells dug and a pump installed. Lumber for the oak flooring and woodwork was felled by students in the College forest, and other student hewed stones from a quarry south of Berea Ridge. It was a colossal effort that resulted not only in the construction of the chapel but also the inception of the College’s woodworking program.
The plans provided by Ms. Phelps Stokes’ nephew called for a bell tower 105 feet high, and Ms. Phelps Stokes donated a large, single bell, which she later replaced with chimes. The chimes consist of ten bells that range in the musical scale from F to G. The hammers that strike the bells are operated by hand and foot pedals, requiring strong pressure and dexterity. They are rung every quarter hour to the tune of Westminster Chimes, and sometimes special tunes are played. In addition to serving as a chapel, the building is used for many College events, including Convocations. Convocations are lectures, symposia, and performing arts events that are an integral part of students’ education. Lectures and performances are also open and free to the public. Notables such as scientist George Washington Carver, U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Frost, anthropologist Margaret Mead, historian Arnold Toynbee, actress and author Maya Angelou, civil rights activist and Georgia senator Julian Bond, and author Alex Haley are among the hundreds of nationally recognized speakers and performers who have been part of the Convocations series.