The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Berea College Appalachian Crafts

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1989

Issue: November, 1989

Every so often something comes across our desk that is so worthwhile and so deserving of widespread support that we are exceptionally proud to tell you about it. The most recent example is a craft catalog we received from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.

For those not familiar with Berea, the following is an excerpt from the catalog which explains the "Fireside Industries" program:

"This collection of handcrafted works from the Berea College Student Crafts Program reflects almost one hundred years of tradition, excellence, and creative effort. Berea College was founded in 1855; the "Fireside Industries" were added in 1893. Today almost 200 students and professional craftspeople work together in Woodcraft, Broomcraft, Fireside Weaving, Wrought Iron, Needlecraft, and Ceramics.

Students also process and pack your orders; staff our retail stores in Berea, Lexington, and Louisville; and operate the computers which track the activity. They learn by doing, work in lieu of paying tuition, and keep alive the tradition of excellence which is Berea College."

A letter from John B. Stevenson, President of Berea College, explains the Berea concept in more detail:

"Since 1893 the students and craft professionals of Berea College have shared the workplace, creating handcrafted products of quality and character. Our students make the items pictured here [in this catalog]; when you order, students will process, pull, pack, ship, and record the transaction. From the hand looms to the personal computers, the Student Crafts Program emphasis is on quality, service, and education.

All Berea College students work 10 to 20 hours per week in lieu of paying tuition. About 150 are involved in the crafts; the other 1350 work in labor departments ranging from the Boone Tavern Hotel to horticulture to Students For Appalachia or the New Opportunity School for Women, outreach programs which directly serve the people of the region.

Berea College students come primarily from Kentucky and the Appalachian South, talented youth with much ability but limited financial means, to study with an outstanding faculty in an atmosphere of kinship and learning. Berea is a four year liberal arts institution, ranked Number One among small comprehensive colleges for three consecutive years by a US News & World Report survey.

Berea is a Christian, non denominational institution, supported by endowment income, earnings, and faithful support from friends who believe in the Berea College mission. The annual cost of educating one student is $8,500.

We invite you to come to Berea, to tour the campus and the craft workshops, dine in the Boone Tavern Hotel and meet the people who make Berea College so special. Your orders from this catalogue support the effort, contribute to the educational process, and help keep alive an almost hundred year old Berea handcraft tradition.

Each cutting board, broom, woven blanket, or hand forged iron hook brings with it a special character, function, and beauty unique to Berea College. Share with us this tradition of excellence."

The Berea College Crafts catalog, with full color photographs of the crafts, may be ordered by sending $2.00 to Berea College Crafts, CPO 2347, Berea, Kentucky 40404. It has 32 pages and offers wonderful gift items for the upcoming holiday season, as well as many items you will want to order for your own pleasure. The catalog contains items as small as handmade hardwood stirring spoons to major pieces of furniture such as dinning room and bedroom sets in walnut and cherry. (If any of you have tried to find solid wood furniture these days, you know what a treasure it is.) There is also a variety of puzzles and games to choose from as well as stuffed toys, brooms, wrought iron items, woven items, baskets and foot stools. All are handmade and in traditional patterns and styles. The simplicity of design would grace any decor.