Visual Arts

Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea celebrates a decade in business

Gwen Heffner of the Kentucky Artisan Center showed off its lobby and the exhibits on display.
Gwen Heffner of the Kentucky Artisan Center showed off its lobby and the exhibits on display. Lexington Herald-Leader

BEREA — 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. That dream came to fruition in 2003.

And this weekend, the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea is celebrating its 10th anniversary by hosting three new exhibits, special guests and local artisan products.

The state began planning for the center, created as an economic development initiative, more than 10 years ago. It opened in July 2003.

"We're not only an artisan center, but we are a travelers center, and in the lobby you see that the most," said Gwen Heffner, the artisan center's information specialist.

The lobby is dedicated to tourists and showcasing Kentucky through exhibits.

The two current exhibits are The Founding of the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea and Highlights of the First 10 Years. Both showcase the center's history with photos of important occasions from the first decade.

They show the evolution of the center from a grass-roots movement to a founded company with a 13-member board representing local, regional and state partners.

When the center opened, it represented almost 220 artisans; now there are almost 700.

"Everything in the shopping center is for sale," Heffner said about The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea: Celebrating 10 Years, a special section exhibiting pieces of one-of-a-kind works by 52 founding artisans.

Warren A. May of Central Kentucky is among the artists who made pieces to sell specifically for the center's anniversary. His Appalachian mountain dulcimer (priced at $1,500) is made of cocobolo wood and has turquoise stones in the fret. When strummed, soft vibrations travel through the instrument.

"What's nice about this show is it's really the whole gambit," Heffner said.

Other artists who also made anniversary pieces include Alan Hedgespeth of Henderson, jewelry boxes with bubinga wood ($290); Ken Gastineau of Berea, ram's horn bracelet ($435); and blacksmith Erika Strecker of Lexington, art lamp ($3,000).

Throughout the store, there are a number of Kentucky Proud foods, handmade clothes, books by local writers and sculptures of wood, porcelain and glass.

Artist bios are next to every product in the store. Heffner says that when children visit they often don't have enough money to afford the products, but they can take an artist's biography with them.

"It's really important for the story and the maker to go home with the visitor," she said. "This way the consumer and the maker meet each other through the biography."

This weekend's schedule of anniversary events includes special guests, food, Kentucky history and artisan demonstrations.

"It's really important for people to see the artist at work and understand these things aren't just items on a shelf," Heffner said.

But the center doesn't just trumpet its Kentucky-made art. In 2007, NPR aired a story on clean restrooms featuring the center's freshly cut flowers. This followed the center's designation as having the "cleanest and best designed restrooms" on Interstate 75 by Dave Hunter, publisher of Along I-75 Travel Guide.

Tongue-in-cheek prizes aside, in 2012, the center welcomed its 2 millionth visitor. Last week, it was named a recipient of a Governor's Award in the Arts for its role in representing the state's art and artists.

"We are thrilled with the whole lineup of awards," Heffner said. "It kind of reaffirms what a lot of people think is our mission. We are doing it through the arts, but we are also doing it through traveling information and hospitality and food."


Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea 10th anniversary celebration

What: The center will celebrate with a showcase of special artwork, live music, artisan demonstrations and historic appearances

When: July 19-21

Where: Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, 200 Artisan Way, Berea (off Interstate 75, Exit 77)

Admission: Free

Learn more: (859) 985-5448,


July 19

10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.: Robert Brigl of Bowling Green will create clay face jugs, Berea College student Jen Salyer demonstrates broom making.

11 a.m.-2 p.m.: Guitarist Robert Tincher of Lexington performs ballads.

11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.: Col. Harland Sanders, portrayed by L. Henry Dowell of Nicholasville, visits. The café will serve fried chicken.

July 20

10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.: Chris Ramsey of Somerset will demonstrate how he turns hats, bowls and vessels from wood on a lathe. Architect Charles Jolly of Lexington, one of the center's architects, will demonstrate watercolor painting.

11 a.m.-2 p.m.: Kyle Meadows and Kentucky Wonder String Band perform.

11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.: Henry Clay, portrayed by George McGee of Georgetown, visits. The café will serve country ham, Clay's favorite.

July 21

10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.: Glass artist Steve Scherer of Edmonton will create ornaments. Dacelle Peckler of Danville demonstrates wire horse sculptures.

11 a.m.-2 p.m.: Chattering Magpies performs music on Irish harp and Irish flute.

11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.: President Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by Jim Sayre of Lawrenceburg, visits. The café will serve apple pie, Lincoln's favorite.