Despite the COVID pandemic, Berea is enjoying a modern craft revival – Lexington Herald Leader | Candle Made Easy

Long known as the craft capital of Kentucky, Berea is home to skilled jewelers, woodworkers, photographers and other creative types.

Thanks to a program that recruited more active artists to the area, the city continues to be a creative hub, attracting and developing a new generation of artisans.

At the center of Berea’s new generation of aspiring crafters is Cynthia Main, who opened Sunhouse Craft in late April with her business and life partner, Doug Stubbs. Main makes craft brooms and has garnered national attention, while Stubbs makes cutting boards.

“Our idea was to tackle items in our homes that we all use for cleaning and cooking that are notoriously disgusting and thrown away by capitalism,” says Main. “We wanted to create objects that are sustainable, beautiful and exceptionally functional to stand in their place, to show that, much like life’s small pleasures that we regularly take for granted, these everyday objects can also have beauty and don’t forget either.”

Originally from Raleigh, NC, Main spent some time working as a woodworker in Chicago and Missouri before moving to Berea in 2018 to participate in Berea Tourism’s Art Accelerator Program, which provided studio and gallery space as well as grants and a monthly stipend for artists. The program offered select artists $1,200 a month for a year to bring their businesses to Berea.

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Cynthia Main making a hand broom in her workshop at Sunhouse Craft in Berea on Saturday 25th June 2022. The store is one of several in the city that have successfully opened during the pandemic. Michael Clubb mclubb@herald-leader.com

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Doug Stubbs walks through his lumber shop at Sunhouse Craft in Berea on Saturday 25th June 2022. Stubbs makes cutting boards for sale in the store. Michael Clubb mclubb@herald-leader.com

The Berea Art Accelerator program encourages revival

Main also credits other local makers and fellow Art Accelerator alumni, such as jeweler Becky Brown, woodworker Tim Wade, potter Jonathan Dazo, and others, for encouraging and helping to revitalize the city’s long-held history of artisans, some brave enough to open others businesses were struggling.

Brown, a Berea native, opened her shop in late 2020 during the pandemic. But despite this challenge, the support has been overwhelming.

“Unfortunately, the Arts Accelerator Program was not sustainable for the tourism department to continue funding,” say Nancy Conley and Donna Angel of Berea Tourism. “However, we continue to see an influx of artists moving to the city since it was discontinued. Some of them have opened physical stores and others are still selling online or from home, but most of them are thriving. In the meantime, we’re always looking for new ways to support our artists, like the Festival of LearnShops program, the Berea Craft Festival and more.”

While Main is disappointed that the program is no more, she is grateful that she was able to participate and all that has resulted from it.

“I took the program with all it was worth, but I also got lucky with lucky timing,” says Main.

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Cynthia Main handmade brooms will be on display at Sunhouse Craft in Berea on Saturday 25th June 2022. Michael Clubb mclubb@herald-leader.com

Sunhouse Craft draws national attention

This random timing came from New York Magazine, which ran a September 2018 story about the comeback of handmade brooms that included a mention of Sunhouse Craft, published the day after Main launched the company’s website. Shortly after, she received another boost when Southern culture magazine Garden & Gun named her a runner-up in the craft category for their tenth annual Made In The South Awards in December 2019.

Around the same time, Main met Stubbs for the first time and quickly developed a strong friendship that led to him becoming a business partner. Prior to their meeting, Stubbs had not tinkered but quickly turned to woodworking, surpassing Main’s skill level in just a few months.

“I’ve been in this business a long time, so it’s safe to say that Doug is a freak of nature,” says Main. “I’ve been working with wood for almost 15 years and within six months he was better than me.”

Main and Stubbs’ work is done in the most sustainable way possible, using reclaimed wood from various sources across the state, gorse grain from independent farmers, and more. As a result, they have built an extensive network of clients, customers and partners across the country. Sunhouse merchandise is now available in 75 stores nationwide as well as overseas in Paris and Switzerland.

Similarly, their quaint shop in downtown Berea accommodates products from nearly 40 artisans from across the country, including over 25 from Kentucky and nearly a dozen from Berea. These items range from soaps to BBQ sauces, pottery, jewelry, photography, nail polish and more.

Jewelery store Berea finds the support overwhelming

Brown, also an Art Accelerator graduate and a Berea native, also opened her Becky Brown Jewelry and Metalwork shop during the pandemic in late 2020. But despite this challenge, the support has been overwhelming.

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Michael Clubb mclubb@herald-leader.com

“We must continue to nurture the arts to remain true to who we are and who we have always been,” Brown said. “Being the folk arts and crafts capital of Kentucky brings us a lot of visitors, which benefits not only the manufacturers but our local economy in general… The more restaurants, shops, outdoor activities and events there are in our city, the better better. All these aspects complement and stimulate each other. We have a lot of passionate people here right now working on the future of Berea, which will definitely include artists of all kinds.”

“It’s incredible how many talented craftsmen we still have in Berea,” says Main. “A lot of people think of artisans as older people, but I was amazed at how many younger people like me flock to the city to put down roots. We feel very fortunate to stock some of their wares and to be based in a city that values ​​its artists as much as Berea does.”

Sun House Craft

Where: 414 Chestnut St, Berea

Hours: 12pm-6pm Thursday-Saturday (or by appointment), closed Sunday-Wednesday

On-line: www.sunhousecraft.com

This story was originally published July 21, 2022 6:00 a.m.

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