When a city’s motto is “where art’s alive,” you know there won’t be a shortage of artisans just waiting to sell, teach, or otherwise flaunt their trade. And Berea does not disappoint. Known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a cultural mecca where artisans come to shine, thrive, and show off a little too.
Located roughly an hour south of Lexington, it’s a perfect spot for a quick day trip or to linger a little longer, staying at one of the local hotels such as the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel. Whether you head this way to get in touch with your inner crafter, or just maybe enjoy the works of a true craftsman (or woman), here are five things in this artsy, craft lovers’ community you won’t want to miss.
- Berea Festival of LearnshopsEach July, the artisans of Berea come together for the Festival of Learnshops, a 16-day event for teaching the arts and crafts that make up Berea’s community (photo courtesy of Berea KY Tourism)
If you’ve ever dreamed of learning to play the dulcimer, write in calligraphy, make mead like a Viking, or fine tune your storytelling skills, you’ve come to the right place. Each July, the resident artisans of Berea come together for sixteen days jam-packed with more than one hundred classes open to the public. If you want to browse leisurely through booth after booth of intricately handmade items to purchase or admire, stay home. This festival is for the hands-on types only. Classes during the Festival of Learnshops range from painting and jewelry making to woodwork and mead making (photo courtesy of Berea KY Tourism)Some of the artisans can trace their trade craft back through generations; others can relate their particular skill to the Appalachian or Native American culture that is woven throughout Berea’s roots. But the best thing about the festival is it completely embodies the spirit of this tight-knit Kentucky community—a place where they don’t just want to show you what they do but fully share the experience with you.
Fees vary per class. Most fees cover the cost of supplies, but you might be required to bring your own safety gear. Just keep in mind that registration for classes starts early in the year, and class size is often limited to a small number.
- Berea Craft FestivalThe Berea Craft Festival is held each July to showcase, demonstrate, and of course sell the wares of more than one hundred artists that join the festival each year (photo courtesy of Berea KY Tourism)
Just before the city readies for the Festival of Learnshops, artists from all over the country flock to Kentucky for the Berea Craft Festival. The weekend event that started in 1982 draws more than one hundred artists selling their crafts and checking out what everyone else has to offer. Local and regional musicians round out the entertainment of the Festival with traditional folk and mountain music.One of the biggest highlights of the weekend is the demonstrations. Buying a piece of art is one thing, but seeing the process takes you to a new level of appreciation. Past demonstrations have included silversmithing, doll making, and raku pottery firing, but the community favorite has to be the demonstrations by Berea College Student Craftspeople. Students from the local college display their skills in woodworking, broom making, and other trades as they discuss the item’s materials and even the trade’s place in Appalachian culture. Through the college, the student craftspeople sell these handmade items to support the scholarship program and Berea’s “no tuition” policy for all students.
- Kentucky Artisan CenterThe Kentucky Artisan Center was completed in 2002 to serve as a gallery, shop, and learning center Kentucky’s artists of all media (photo courtesy of the Kentucky Artisan Center)
If you only have time to visit one place in Berea, make it the Kentucky Artisan Center—a 25,000-square-foot one-stop shop for all things art in Kentucky.The first thoughts toward a center for the arts came in the aftermath of a tornado that ripped through Berea in 1996. Several artists’ studios and galleries were damaged. A group including local artists, city officials, and leaders from Berea College gathered to discuss plans for a place that would promote the talent and culture of the community. It only grew from there, and in 2002 the Kentucky Artisan Center opened its doors.The Center promotes Kentucky artists from various crafts and backgrounds from all genres of visual art to literary and even culinary arts. Visitors can learn about Kentucky crafts and arts through exhibits and demonstrations, while the shop gives the artisans a place to sell their work. Admission is free for visitors and is open seven days a week.
- Visual Arts Academy March through November, budding artists and artists-at-heart can take one of the many classes offered through the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen Visual Arts Academy (photo courtesy of Berea KY Tourism)
In Berea, there’s always a chance to learn something new. March through November, budding artists and artists-at-heart can take one of the many classes offered through the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen Visual Arts Academy. From the traditional to the new, students learn from the pros on everything from quilt making to newest medium in painting.The Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsman was started in 1961. The nonprofit that promotes and markets the work of its members actually started out in two train cars thanks to then-Governor Bert T. Combs. The governor requisitioned the cars from the L&N Railroad Company to travel the rail helping fellow artists improve their work and learn a thing or two about selling their wares. Fast forward almost sixty years and the Kentucky Guild now has memberships reaching outside Kentucky and throughout the region.
- Old Town Artisan Village and College Square College Square is home to the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel, which sells items from local artisans and Berea College students (photo by Dr Parker)
If you miss the festivals and don’t have time to take a class, don’t fret. Berea still has plenty of artisans more than happy to show you their craft or set up a time for a quick one-on-one. If you’d rather admire than learn, they’re more than happy to have you too. Berea is a shopper’s paradise for one-of-a-kind items. The two best areas to hit the most shops are Old Town Artisan Village and College Square.Along with artists and perhaps a candy shop or two (candy makers can be artists too) the Old Town Artisan Village is also home to the Berea Welcome Center and the Berea Arts Council. So if you don’t know where to start, there are plenty of people available here to point you in the right direction. One stop on your list should be Honeysuckle Vine. The gallery and studio, in what looks like a renovated barn, houses four local artists’ businesses: Hot Flash Beads, Dinah Tyree-Watercolors, Lindsay Gallery, and Images of Santa. Honeysuckle Vine in the Old Town Artisan Village is the studio and gallery of four Berea artists
College Square also offers great shopping with the added chance to support the local college. The Shoppe at Boone Tavern, located in the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel, has locally handcrafted items and crafts from the students at Berea College. Also in College Square is the Berea College Farm Store. The shop is run by students selling products from meats and vegetables to grains and honey, all raised, grown, or harvested by Berea students. Another way this artist’s community supports its students and love of learning side by side.