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Painted Hand on Main Street in College Square.

Berea, Kentucky - An Art Town Supreme

Article and photos by Anne Jenkins


A lot of folks make the mistake of stopping off the Interstate 75 at Exit 77 to visit the wonderful Kentucky Artisan Center (KAC) and then continue on the highway thinking they've seen all there is to see. The KAC is truly a marvel and time must be spent there to take it all in. But don't miss the town of Berea a short distance from the interstate.

Quilts or their images are everywhere.

Venture in a couple of miles to an art town supreme. Almost two towns in fact. There's the group of studios clustered around the old railroad depot called Old Town Artisan Village. Up the hill a bit is the ?new? town, with the esteemed craft-oriented Berea College slap bang in the middle, called College Square.

Lee Nelson stands by the Hand outside the Railway Depot info center.


Start your tour at the old railway depot - it's been transformed in to an information center. In the little park outside the depot is an example of an old Kentucky cabin and the first of the many hand sculptures on display throughout the town. Berea used the six-foot plus hand as their symbol to indicate reaching out to people and the hand of an artist. Some of the designs artist painted on the hands are very cool indeed.


The hand flag announcing the studio is open.

The information center has an excellent map of Berea with the studios/galleries clearly marked. You'll know which place is open because they will have a flag flying outside saying ?Studio Artists at Berea: Artists at Work.? Most of the studios in the old town are on North Broadway but everything is within easy walking distance of the depot. First off, there's a couple of galleries right next to the depot.

Dinah Tyree at Honeysuckle Vine Gallery paints soft watercolor originals for cards & prints.


Luckily Dinah Tyree was working on her lovely soft watercolors at Honeysuckle Vine Gallery, so we talked a while. Her images of the horse are extraordinary. The gallery also has wonderful hand hewn wood bowls and soaps among a cornucopia of art an good stuff.

Neil Colmer weaves his loom in Weaver's Bottom.

We visited with Neil Colmer in Weaver's Bottom, as he sat at his loom weaving as though it was the easiest thing in the world. His explanation for the name of his studio is fun. When he and his wife, Mary, started out as professional craftspeople they were starting at the bottom. They were at the bottom of their finances and their studio is at the bottom of the hill. In the mountains, bottom means courage and ?it sure took a lot of bottom to get off the bottom.? A graduate of the Berea College and a weaver for over 30 years, his beautiful work is now world-renown. Mary makes cornhusk dolls creating scene and character from natural products.

Ken Gastineau demonstrates making a pewter baby cup.


Then we were blown away by the craftsmanship of Ken Gastineau, an amazing jeweler and metal smith. He kindly spent time demonstrating his craft and talking about how Berea has worked hard to achieve their enviable art-town status. It doesn't happen overnight and takes dedicated people with vision.




Wally Haley's glorious rocking chair.

If you ever want to buy the world's best looking rocking chair, go straight to Doug Haley at Haley-Daniels woodwork studio. Everything in here is superb workmanship. You can just sense the care and joy that went in to each piece. He also collaborates with Neil Colmer, the weaver, in making these sublime rocking chairs. Neil weaves the leather seats in a tight, beautiful pattern. And there's a whole story about how he got the leather - just ask him!


Jeff Gieringer of Powdermill Pottery works a piece

Across the street from the Haley-Daniels studio is Powdermill Pottery run by Jeff and Lesa Gieringer, who specialize in crystalline, saggar, pit-dried, raku and stoneware pottery. Lesa also makes soy candles and goats milk soap but concentrates mostly on pottery. Their studio is a hive of activity and they graciously let us wander through it as we discussed doing outside shows.

Sustenance called so we headed over to the College Square area for lunch. After a tasty panini in the lively Berea Coffee & Tea Co., on Main St, full of students and teachers, we walked through the Boone Tavern. This is a grand restored hotel which dominates the Main Street. The hotel started back in 1908 when the wife of the Berea College, President William Frost, had to provide lodging and food for about 300 visitors to the college. After they all left she told her husband it was time to build a guest house. I can't say I blame her.

Fanciful bird at the Quilt Shop on Main Street.


We admired the quilts on exhibit at the Berea Arts Council and then talked about art and their future in it with the two students operating the college gallery next door. This we followed up with a discussion on quilts and politics with Don Graham, the owner of the Quilt Shop - a kaleidoscope of outstanding quilts and fabrics.


Dulcimer maker Warren May and a friend strum up a tune on three dulcimers.

Just around the corner we had a magical encounter at Warren May's wood making studio, world renown for his dulcimers. Saying he makes dulcimers is an understatement. Each one is a piece of art - and the music he produces is spellbinding. While he was telling us about life in general, his dulcimers and how they work, a friend of his walked in and they started an impromptu performance. We could have stayed for hours listening to them. Afterwards she laughed as she said, ?I gotta stop coming in here, I buy too many of his dulcimers!?

We missed seeing a whole bunch of studios, galleries and shops. You really need more than one day in Berea. I would have liked to tour the College - I admire how they allow students to work for their tuition and it has an interesting history of craft making. But it's given me a good excuse to go back.

I fell a little bit in love with the whole of Kentucky, it's a rural, tranquil and beautiful state. What's not to like - a state with elegant horses, bourbon and great art? I wonder how the rents are??




I could list them all but it's probably just as easy to go to this link and work from there ?


Click to learn about Anne Jenkins

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.


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