According to the school’s website, Berea College embraced the Crafts Revival Movement of the late 19th century. The school president at the time, William G. Frost, decided to incorporate a crafts-making program as part of the curriculum. The program has thrived and has provided an additional national (and international) presence through the sales and marketing of student-produced items from the program’s five studios: wooden furniture, weaving, broom making, jewelry, ceramics, and small jewelry.
Tim Glotzbach, director of program, said the program’s mission goes beyond preserving the old ways.
“Preservation for us really has to go beyond the skills of the thing. It has to be teaching design, design principles, and really stay relevant to the lives of people who visit,” he said.
When Berea began its weaving studio in the 1890s, families were no longer practicing the craft because commercial fabrics were available. “When it began, the college was really trying to revive the cottage industries,” he said.
The college sold the work of its students, and that money went back into the college. All students who attend Berea College are on full tuition scholarship and work 10-20 hours a week on campus. Although many learn crafts, 90-95 percent of the students are not arts majors, Glotzbach said.
The AIR Institute of Berea College is a new program that helps artists understand business skills needed by entrepreneurs and trains them in design thinking, Glotzbach said. “How do you prototype? How do you market? How do you really develop a business plan and then understand the words, the terminology, the technology that you need to proceed further with that?”
According to Glotzbach, the crafts program stays relevant by creating unique items that appeal to a greater marketplace. Artists must engage with the world, he said, adding, “Sales are a conversation. And it’s as much about listening as about telling. And that’s a wonderful talent to have.”