BEREA, Ky. – Ten hours a week, you will find Berea College student Takudzwa Mabbvuta weaving in a studio on campus. A skill the freshman only learned last fall.
“I’m really proud of myself and excited to learn more,” Mabbvuta said.
Mabbvuta isn’t a weaving major, in fact, that’s not a major at the college, but he is continuing a tradition that started in 1893.
“Our third president, President [William] Frost and his wife actually went out into the mountains of Appalachia in the late 1800s and saw that people were making their own dinnerware, their own bedding, their own linens, their own brooms, and he didn’t want to lose those fine traditions, so he brought them back to the school,” explained Susan Buckmaster, who is the director of retail sales and business development at Berea College
Mabbvuta is studying biology, but the Student Craft program at Berea College, where he learned to weave, teaches him other skills.
“It’s helped me like ask questions when I need to because sometimes I don’t know what I am doing,” Mabbvuta said. “ ‘Cause I am used to like doing things on my own so like having to ask someone has really changed me, and it has broadened my sense of thinking in a sense, and creativity too, and teamwork.”
Since Berea College is tuition-free, Mabbvuta weaves 10-hours a week as part of its labor program, which helps contribute.
“So all 1,600 hundred of our students work somewhere on campus and about 80 to 90 of them choose to work in the craft department. So they choose to learn either weaving, ceramics, woodworking or broom making, and those are crafts we just want to keep the tradition going,” Buckmaster said.
Next to the weaving studio, some of Mabbvuta’s runners and placemats are sold at the Berea College’s Log House Craft Gallery. Everything is hand-crafted with the majority of products made by Appalachian artists. The students’ work is priced from $22 for a woven placemat to $450 for a stool, hand-carved using ash trees from the college’s forest.
“You know sometimes a placemat takes two hours to weave, one placemat, so the items that our students sell are priced comparable to any other artisans in the area,” Buckmaster explained.
Buckmaster also said Berea College’s Log House Craft Gallery is the longest-running craft gallery in the state, and it has never shut down since it opened over 100 years ago.
Even though Mabbvuta has woven less than a year, his hard work is paying off.
“It feels so like rewarding after like working so hard for a placemat that it’s actually sold to people, and people actually use it,” Mabbvuta told Spectrum News 1. “In a sense phenomenal for me because I haven’t made something that is sold before.”
The Log House Craft Gallery is located at 200 Estill St., Berea, KY, and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. till 5 p.m. For more info, visit its Facebook page.