Based on the number of trendy shops in Old Town Artisan Village, or the fact that the Kentucky Artisan Center opened only in 2003, some visitors to Berea might think its designation as Kentuckys Folk Arts and Crafts Capital is of recent vintage. They would be wrong.
Bereas artistic legacy dates to 1896, when artists and artisans from across Appalachia spurred on by the growing fascination with mountain folk art arrived in town to exhibit their wares at the original Home Spun Fair.
That legacy continues today, both at the 21st-century version of the Home Spun Fair the Berea Craft Festival held each July and throughout the year when serious collectors descend on the Madison County town in search of the real thing and not just another Appalachian theme park.
They find the real thing here in the shops, galleries and studios near College Square and at the Old Town Artisan Village.
The shops around College Square are given over to the kind of traditional arts and crafts that first made Berea famous handmade quilts, woven baskets, decorative pottery and handcrafted furniture. They are found in shops such as the Appalachian Fireside Gallery (127 Main Street; (859) 986-9013) and the Log House Craft Gallery (200 Estill Street; (859) 985-3220), Bereas oldest and largest gallery.
At the artisan village, the shops and galleries have a more contemporary focus (ceramic and wire jewelry, glass blowing and intricate beadwork), but the craftspeople are equally as passionate about their work. Just a few of the shops to check out are: Honeysuckle Vine and Hot Flash Beads (303 North Broadway Street; (859) 986-2411); Fish Wisdom Beads (130 North Broadway Street, No. 2; (859) 986-7463), and Top Drawer Gallery (202 North Broadway Street; (859) 985-2907).
In all, there are some 25 studios and workshops open to the public where the artists are only too happy to talk about the creative process.
If youre looking for the best Berea has to offer all under one roof, the Kentucky Artisan Center (975 Walnut Meadow Road, off Interstate 75 at Exit 77; (859) 985-5448; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, except some holidays) is a must-see. Its 25,000 square feet feature everything from weaving to woodwork. Especially popular are the craft demonstrations from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each Saturday.
Of course, no visit to Berea is complete without a self-guided walk around the grounds of Berea College (Visitors Center on Short Street; (859) 985-3145). Ranked among the top comprehensive liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report, its beautiful, tree-shaded campus, with impressive Greek Revival and Federal-style buildings, attracts students and visitors from all over the world.
But Berea College is more than beautiful buildings and lovely grounds; it a testament to how far one mans dreams can carry him. In 1855, when the Rev. John Fee, aided by the emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay, opened his one-room schoolhouse, he had little idea of the fruit his seeds would bear.
Although closed down by the Civil War and constrained by Kentuckys half-century-long law prohibiting integrated education, Berea College never wavered in its commitment: to offer a free, high-quality education to blacks, women and later, those living in poverty in Appalachia.
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