“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Berea in Madison County, Kentucky — The American South (East South Central)

Berea – A Birthplace of the Handicraft Revival

Berea – A Birthplace of the Handicraft Revival Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, June 19, 2020
1. Berea – A Birthplace of the Handicraft Revival Marker
By the late 1700’s, manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution were replacing handcrafted items, but in Berea and other pockets of Central Appalachia, handicraft traditions continued. The celebration of traditional loomed weavings by Berea College’s third President, Dr. William Frost, is considered the foundation of the revival of Appalachian handicrafts. When Frost arrived from Oberlin, Ohio in 1892, he was immediately impressed by finely woven coverlets he saw in Berea and the surrounding counties. His enthusiasm for the local weaving and craft skills inspired him to help preserve this handiwork and develop new products and markets for the mountain weavers. Frost’s early exchanges of coverlets “bartered for larnin’” set the standard for what has become a century-long tradition at Berea College: tuition-free education for academically promising students who work to earn money for room and board.

Frost’s preservation and promotion of handicrafts, and his establishment of Berea College’s “earning while learning” Fireside Industries, helped ignite similar efforts at North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate,
Berea – A Birthplace of the Handicraft Revival Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, June 19, 2020
2. Berea – A Birthplace of the Handicraft Revival Marker
Marker on right.
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the Penland School of Craft and the Southern Highland Craft Guild.

Home of the First Appalachian Craft Fair and Successful Private Enterprises.

In 1896 Berea hosted its first craft fair coinciding with the College commencement. “The Homespun Fair” offered students and community craftsmen the then-unheard-of opportunity to sell their wares to an interested public. This craft fair tradition lives on in Berea and has been replicated in nearly every part of the country, offering those who uphold find handcrafted traditions the occasion to sell their products and demonstrate their talents.

The success of Berea College’s Fireside Industries encouraged area entrepreneurs to broadly market their handcrafted wares. Two regional craft enterprises, Churchill Weavers and Bybee Pottery, also found success in marketing their products beyond the Appalachian region as early as the 1920’s. These businesses have not only endured, but achieved international recognition.

Since the first crafts renaissance in the late 1800’s, the tradition and evolution of hand-wrought crafts have survived setbacks and enjoyed resurgences. The community of Berea treasures its rich heritage as the birthplace for many of the craft movement’s first and foremosts.

Today’s Berea artists and craftspeople have been featured in museums, private collections
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and retail venues throughout the world. They may arrive from distant lands and various walks of life, but they share a common hands-on commitment to create viable businesses from their labor and love of their craft. The “handmade in Berea” artwork you take home today not only has lasting beauty, but also signifies your appreciation of the centuries-strong art and craft tradition this country was built upon.

Welcome to Berea – the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky.

Functional and decorative hand loomed coverlets, also known as “kivers”, took center stage in the hearts and homes of may mountain families. Often, a single weaver would prepare all materials. This included growing and dyeing the cotton, making the loom, spinning the fiber and designing the pattern – all before the actual weaving could begin. Today’s weavers may benefit from more accessible materials, but the method of weaving remains much the same as that shown (left) by a present-day weaver.

The region’s first craft fair or “Homespun Fair” was actually part of Berea College’s commencement ceremonies shown here, by Frank Long’s fine mural in Berea’s former post office building (painting c. 1938).

Chairmaking was one way pioneers furnished their homes and earned additional income. Woven chairs bottoms
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made from white oak splits or hickory were favored for comfort and durability. The art of weaving chair bottoms has changed little, as seen in comparing the Depression-era photo (above) and the recent picture taken at one of Berea’s many Craft Fairs (left).

Berea’s working artist studios and renowned galleries are just a few minutes drive away. Turn right when exiting the Artisan Center. Old Town and College Square are within a couple of miles.
Erected by Berea Tourism.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Arts, Letters, MusicEducation. A significant historical year for this entry is 1892.
Location. 37° 35.791′ N, 84° 18.715′ W. Marker is in Berea, Kentucky, in Madison County. Marker is on Artisan Way, 0.3 miles west of Walnut Meadow Road (Kentucky Route 595), on the left when traveling west. Marker located at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 200 Artisan Way, Berea KY 40403, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Kentucky's Earliest Artforms (here, next to this marker); The Battle of Richmond Knocked at Berea's Door (approx. 2.1 miles away); Church of Christ, Union (approx. 2.1 miles away); Encampment at Bobtown / Engagment at Bobtown / Advance to Kingston (approx. 4.8 miles away); Madison Hemp And Flax Co. / Hemp in Kentucky (approx. 5.1 miles away); Richmond-Prelude/ Richmond Battle (approx. 5.4 miles away); The Battle Begins (approx. 5˝ miles away); Fort Paint Lick (approx. 5˝ miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Berea.
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker.
Also see . . .  Kentucky Artisan Center. (Submitted on June 23, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee.)
Credits. This page was last revised on June 23, 2020. It was originally submitted on June 23, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 105 times since then and 32 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on June 23, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. • Devry Becker Jones was the editor who published this page.

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Sep. 28, 2022