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September 16, 2012
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Fall Fair — Art Among The Trees

Berea’s Fall Fair showcases some of Kentucky’s finest arts and crafts

By Katherine Tandy Brown

Enrique Gonzalez of Lexington performs a live demonstration during the 2011 Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen Fall Fair at Indian Fort Theatre in Berea.

Come Oct. 13-14, the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen (KGAC) Fall Fair will again fill Indian Fort Theatre in Berea and its surrounding grounds with splendid art, music, dancing and food.

In case you have yet to experience this annual artsfest, rev up for a terrific outdoor day in the Folk Arts and Craft Capital of Kentucky. Located in a private chunk of the Daniel Boone National Forest owned by Berea College (as is the theatre), the fair is a showplace for the best of Kentucky’s artisans. All must be members of the KGAC, the state’s oldest arts organization. Current membership numbers 350, all of whom must be juried in, which involves meeting the high standards required for each of their specific mediums.

“The quality of all the art at the Fall Fair is top notch,” said Jeannette Rowlett, KGAC’s executive director. “Not only are all members juried but their work on display at the fair is checked by a standards committee. When you buy from artists who are in the Kentucky Guild, you’re going to get a good product.”

Begun in 1968 with only 37 artists and two craft demonstrators, the fair has burgeoned to fill its woodsy space with some 115 to 120 talented artists, many of whom also show folks how they turn wood on a lathe, shape a pot from clay on a potter’s wheel and apply paint to canvas to capture a scene from nature.

Most of the artists occupy wooden booths that line several paths snaking up through the trees, and as you wander, you’ll ogle wares that include baskets, jewelry, leather, paintings, metal, glass, fiber, sculpture, brooms, two-dimensional mixed media, photography, etchings, wood, clay…well, you get the idea. There’s definitely something for every taste.

And while you’re eyeing art, strolling musicians will entertain, cloggers will tap and the scent of such goodies as barbecue, burgers, popcorn and funnel cakes will lure you into a snack attack. Be brave and try the “bubble tea.” (No hints here. Just do it and brag to your friends.)

The evolution of this family-friendly occurrence speaks to the strength of the mission of the KGAC “to establish art and craft as a vital influence,” which it has been actively promoting since 1961. For its first seven years, the organization spread the arts word through the commonwealth via two train cars donated by the L&N Railroad. A baggage car morphed into an art museum, while a passenger car became a crafts demonstration workshop. Freight trains would haul the cars into a community and drop them off for a few days while townspeople explored the world of art.

Since that time, KGAC has never owned a gallery space or office, but in March, the organization purchased a building in Berea’s Old Town arts district, which as of early 2013, will house exhibits, workshops, speakers and a buying gallery. The Fall Fair will offer a sneak preview as to the caliber of art to expect in these new digs.

Once you’ve been bitten by the art bug at the fair, head back into Berea, with its small-town square and Berea College, which was founded in 1855. Free tours of the 140-acre, beautifully manicured campus are offered on Saturdays at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Amble around the square and stick your nose in eclectic shops and small galleries. In one of those, you can watch woodworker Warren May handcrafting Kentucky mountain dulcimers. Across the street, the Log House Craft Gallery displays handiworks from the college’s Student Crafts Program and features weekend crafts demonstrations. Feed your face with scrumptious Italian fare at PapaLeno’s.

Another artsy location, Old Town, is but a mile from I-75. Stop in the Welcome Center for maps and directions, then visit a myriad of studios, including Weaver’s Bottom, where you may catch Neil Colmer weaving intricate patterns at his big loom, and Gastineau Studio, to admire gorgeous pewter jewelry. Open all day, the bohemian Black Feather Café can start your day with substantial breakfast biscuits and sturdy coffee.

Situated right off I-75 is the Kentucky Artisan Center, a 24/7-365, 25,000-s.f. resource chock full of Kentucky crafts, music, books, travel info and food. All this, plus Saturday crafts demos and a café with bourbon bread pudding.

After galloping through galleries all day long, rest your tired hooves at tiny, yellow-doored Weavers Rest Cottage, just spacious enough for four. Drive out from town for fabulous vegetarian fare and quiet snoozing at Snug Hollow Farm Bed and Breakfast. Or stay on the Berea Square in old-fashioned style on handcrafted beds at Boone Tavern. Its award-winning restaurant uses as many local and Kentucky Proud ingredients as it can muster and specializes in legendary spoonbread.

Even the food in Berea can be considered an art form.

Find out about all the above from Berea Tourism at berea.com or inquire at (800) 598-5263.

Katherine Tandy Brown is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at editorial@lanereport.com.

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