Berea College Student Crafts

Back row: David Buchta, Director and State Curator of the Kentucky Division of Historic Properties, Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, Berea College First Lady Laurie Roelofs, Zachary Smith, ’16, Micah Korban, ’14, Tim Glotzbach Student Crafts Program Director, and Ann Evans, Governor’s Mansion Director. Front row: Jacob Flerlage, ’16, Ian Root, ’15, and Zachary Widrick, ’16.

The Berea College woodcraft shop is buzzing with activity this semester as furniture making in the Student Crafts Program is going through a renaissance period. This rebirth will not go unnoticed.

After building Phelps Stokes Chapel more than 100 years ago, Berea College student bricklayers next showcased their talent on the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion, completed in 1914. As the 100th anniversary of the Mansion’s completion approaches, Berea students are once again putting their creative hands to work on the historic Frankfort building.

According to President Lyle Roelofs, when he met Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear in December 2012, he mentioned Berea’s historic ties with the Governor’s Mansion and the continuing success of the College’s student labor and crafts programs. When Mrs. Beshear remarked that new, sturdier chairs were needed for the Mansion’s ballroom, President Roelofs connected her with Berea’s student crafts program director, Tim Glotzbach. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, the Governor’s Mansion is constructed in the French Beaux-Arts style that was highly influential a century ago. Adjacent to the Kentucky State Capitol building, it is one of the few governors’ residences in the nation open for public tours. One of the busiest public rooms is the gilded ballroom, which is used frequently for galas, receptions, concerts, lectures, and press conferences, according to the Mansion’s director, Ann Evans.

With the encouragement of the Beshears, members of the Kentucky Executive Mansion Foundation, Inc. (KEMFI) eventually asked for and accepted a project quote from Berea College Crafts. According to Evans, the chairs were designed with the “guidance and expertise” of Berea’s woodcraft studio staff and approved by KEMFI and the Historic Properties Advisory Commission.

First Lady Jane Beshear watches Ian Root, ’15, student wood worker.
First Lady Jane Beshear watches Ian Root, ’15, student wood worker.

“Berea College was chosen because of the personal handcrafting of each chair. This is a project of education and determination by students, which was so important to the Governor and First Lady,” said Evans. “We all see this as a ‘win-win’ situation for our state.”

One hundred and twenty chairs—one for each Kentucky county—are being crafted by a five-student team under the leadership of staff furniture maker Chester Mullins. Each county government was asked to raise funds to pay the cost for a single chair, and each chair will be adorned with a brass plate bearing the name of its county.

According to Evans, “The Beshears see the Mansion as the ‘people’s house’ and feel it would be nice to have representation of the entire state in the Mansion, where people from Kentucky and all over the world gather year after year. They are very honored that Berea College chose to take on this project that will become a lasting legacy from this administration and the people of Kentucky to the Commonwealth.”

The chairs will have lightly padded upholstered seats with material selected by the Mansion’s history experts. Though Berea College Crafts celebrates 120 years of operations this year, it has been many decades since upholstered furniture has been manufactured at Berea regularly. The students are learning the technique, however, and every Mansion chair will be made entirely at the College. “We’re not outsourcing anything on this. We want to do it all here,” said Glotzbach.

The chairs are a redesign of the popular Empire model that is already produced by Berea College Crafts. They are structurally strong to stand up to frequent use, and, unlike other furniture made by Berea College Crafts, they are being painted. A gold-colored topcoat will reflect the gilt trim of the room’s décor.

Sustainably harvested maple hardwood lumber from the Berea College Forest is being painstakingly processed, planed, turned, joined, sanded, and painted by student crafters Jacob Flerlage, Micah Korban, Ian Root, Zachary Smith, and Zachary Widrick. These students were thrilled to be chosen to build the chairs for the Governor’s Mansion and for the invaluable experience the opportunity has brought.

“The labor program continues to be an essential part of the student learning experience at Berea College.” – Dr. Roelofs, President “My dream is to one day own my own shop, creating quality master works,” said Ian Root, a junior technology and applied design major from Flat Gap, Kentucky. “This would be impossible without the hands-on methods used in the shop. A book is great and in theory you can learn everything about the woodworking world by reading. But I do believe that in order to be good at what you want to do, you can’t just theorize about it. You dig in, get dirty, and do it.”

Glotzbach said the recent production of desks, two-drawer chests, and end tables (256 pieces in total) for the new Deep Green Residence Hall, the Governor’s Mansion, and a spring project for Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate in Lexington, Kentucky, “has allowed Berea College Crafts to regain its historic leadership role of education in furniture building,” which waned about 30 years ago.

Derrick Singleton, Berea’s interim vice president for operations and sustainability, is a big supporter of this undertaking. “This is an exceptional opportunity for our students to be able to contribute directly on a legacy project that will be visible and telling the story of Berea College for years to come.”

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