This place is completely unimpressive from the outside. But once you go in, it is one of those places where the insides seem bigger than the outside.
As the name implies, it is everything having to do with weaving. You enter through the gift shop/store where you can buy handwoven anything (see their online catalogue.... you can't believe what they weave), you can buy souveniers, you can buy weaving equipment, you can buy yarn. Follow the line on the floor and you "weave" your way back into the building and into another age. Sooosh Phlugm Sooosh Phlugm.... that is the sound of eight warps being operated by hand and foot by 10 or 12 weavers (some patterns have more than one operator per warp). There are no electric motors; all people power.
It is hypnotizing to watch them work. Pick at the webs, slide the shuttle, kick the pedal to tighten, pass the yarn over, pick at the webs.... etc, etc etc. What I don't understand is how they can keep all the pattern info in their heads so there are no mistakes and how they can sit there doing such repetitive actions without going crazy.
The tours are basically self-guided and you are asked (by signs) not to bother the weavers who are actually weaving. But we found that the weavers who were doing setup or cleanup tasks did not mind answering a few dumb questions we had (like "how long have you been a weaver?".... they must have heard that one a thousand times). There are plaques and photos on the wall to explain the weaving process and all the type of items they have made in the past.
The day we were in Berea was one of the rainiest they have had in years. The weaver's building was built at the end of a long sloping driveway and the rainwater just swirled around the footings. We spent about an half-hour doing the tour bit and at least that much time in the gift shop. We picked up only a very small knick-knack item because the woven items were very very expensive (not that they weren't worth it, but $60 for a scarf is a bit beyond a fixed-income budget).
On the National Register of Historical Places the Historic L & N Depot was built in 1920 and served as the depot for passengers arriving and departing from southern Madison County. Freight shipments were also a large part of the services performed at the depot. Today, the depot is used as the official welcome center for the 50,000 tourists that come to Berea each year.
This place is a classroom, an exhibit, a rendevous for artists, a store, a museum, all rolled into one. Artisans working in wood, metal, paint, fabric, pottery; artists working with local musical instruments and songs; supporters who encourage the continuence of the heritage that Kentucky has given to the arts; tourists interested in finding that special gift..... these are the people who flock to the Artisan Center.
The place is huge: it contains exhibit rooms, rooms where individual artists are working on new projects, classrooms where accolytes are learning the crafts, conference rooms where supporters/administrators/artists convene to discover paths to expand the institute. There is a large gift shop and a cafeteria. Nothing is cheap. But you wouldn't expect it to be.... these are the best that Kentucky can offer.
The Kentucky Artisan Center is the perfect first stop for a visit to Berea. The center is right off I-75, and has both exhibit and retail areas which display products of the state: Kentucky-crafted items; recordings by Kentucky musicians; books by Kentucky authors and specialty foods grown or produced in Kentucky. There is also a cafe and grill as well as a travel information area.
Kentucky has a rich cultural heritage, and this is a great place to learn more about it. Admission is free.
The town of Berea was named after Berea College, and the College takes its name from the Biblical town in Greece that was receptive to the Gospel. Berea holds a nationally significant place in the history of American education as the first interacial college in the South. It was founded before the Civil War, in 1855, with the foundational theme: "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth." Berea is Christian but non-sectarian.
The central campus includes 140 acres, while college owned farmland and forests bring the total acreage to 9,000. The College provides a full-tuition scholarshiop to every student, admits only low-income students, and requires all students to work in a college related job for 10-15 hours per week. While Berea is committed to the Appalachian region, the College's multicultural mix includes students throughout the U.S. and more than 68 countries.
U.S. News and World Report has repeatedly ranked Berea as the number one liberal arts colletge in its category. No visit to the town of Berea is complete without a tour of the campus. Among the beautiful buildings you will see is the Draper Classroom Building (pictured) which is modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
The center of Berea is College Square. On Main Street, College Square is anchored on one side by Boone Tavern, and on the other by Appalachian Arts & Crafts Quilt Shop. Between these, and around the block is an array of shops and galleries where one may find a wealth of regional handmade crafts, foods, and gifts for every taste. We especially enjoyed exploring the shop of nationally-acclaimed craftsman Warren A. May. He is a master furniture maker and is also recognized for more than ten thousand Appalachian dulcimers he has made here in Berea.
Churchill Weavers is nationally renowned as America's Oldest and Largest Handweaver. It has been in operation since 1922. The Loomhouse, Gallery, and Outlet Room are open the the public and free self-guided tours are available.
Frankly we had heard so much about Churchill Weavers that we expected it to be larger than it is, but I suppose that by nature a handweaver would be a relatively small operation. Still there is none larger in America. Karen loved the place, and we couldn't get out without buying a few items, and taking their catalog with us from which we later ordered more gifts.
The art of Mitchell Tolle holds a special place among the talented folk of Berea. His studio and gallery is perhaps the nicest in town. Certainly it is the one we enjoyed most. Mitchell is a local man who has a special gift for painting American scenes. There is something soothing, wholesome and refreshing about his work. His portraits of children are particularly endearing. Collectors of Tolle's art live in every state, and visitors to his gallery have come from more than 70 nations.
Admission to the gallery is free and it is open 9 a.m - 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Sunday hours are 1 p.m. -5 p.m., May 15 - December 31.
The Kentucky Artisan Center features everything from art glass blown by local professors to spoonbread recipes and cast-iron pans. The building is beautiful inside and out, and it has a great cafe that's actually pretty affordable. I recommend the red velvet cake. All the art work is for sale, but it's displayed more in a gallery-like setting, and less like a tacky museum store. To me this is a great display of Americana art. You can see the building from I-75 and you should definitely stop to browse, even if it's only for thirty minutes. There's also additional tourism information at the Center's front desk, and the people who staff the place can offer helpful tips about the area.
Since 1893 Berea College students and master craftspeople have shared the loom, the lathe and the potter's wheel. Today more than 150 students work in Woodcraft, Fireside Weaving, Ceramics, Broomcraft and Wrought iron. The Log House Craft Gallery is the premier showplace for their handiwork. This large old two story genuine log structure is a work of art within itself. The gallery is open Mon.-Sat. 8-8, and Sunday 1-5.
It's basically a tourism information office with a huge gift shop and restaurant. If you like well made crafts, this is the place.
The restaurant serves local dishes, i.e., the Deep Brown or was it Big Brown. Layer of bread, meat, cheese, bacon, tomato. It's about 2 inches thick. Definitely a fork, not a sandwich.
It appears to be in the middle of Berea College, there is the Boone Tavern, and some craft shops. This appears to be an older area than Old Town and it offers additional crafts shops, a few studios and restaurants.
Visitors to Berea should browse through the many craft stores located near Berea college and located in old town Berea near the old train station. One of my favorites is Warren May's wood shop, where you can watch the owner build Appalchain mountain dulcimers.