LOTW 66: Berry Then and Now – Handicrafts

By Allison Moore

One of the essential goals of the early Berry Schools was to prepare its students to succeed in the rural life they had grown up in, and it is for this reason that practical skills were an essential part of a Berry education. Young men at the boy’s school were taught proper and more efficient agricultural and construction techniques. Many of the most famous buildings on campus, including the House O’ Dreams and Frost Chapel, were constructed by students. When the Martha Berry School for Girls opened in 1909, one of the main educational focuses was to teach the girls handicrafts that could eventually assist them in running a household. The Berry Girls began producing a variety of products for the school to sell and, when the Ford buildings were completed in 1931, a weaving center was established in what is now the Admissions Office.

An order form from a “Sunshine” handicrafts sale in 1930 shows some of the items the girls were taught to make, including baby blankets, towels, baskets, fans, scarves, bags, and rugs. In addition to holding sales on campus, the school found several stores across the east coast that would stock the Berry Schools’ merchandise. Emily Vanderbilt Hammond, a close friend of Martha Berry, sent a letter to Miss Berry in 1930 giving her names of some individuals who inquired about selling Berry handicrafts, including a few stores in New York City. Many admirers of Berry handicrafts sent in very specific requests of what they were looking for. A 1928 letter from Rachel Hammond contains an order for twin bed covers and pillow shams, along with a fabric sample to show the color scheme she wants for the room. She also specifies what that the pillow shams should be lined in “old rose” fabric, rather than “dead white.” Letters with instructions similar to these are strewn throughout the archive, in addition to many praises of the Berry girls’ work, so it’s clear that they were very skilled. Martha Berry wanted the girls to be the best at their craft, so in 1928 she invited Mrs. Erik Green to come teach weaving at the school. She asks that Mrs. Green show the girls how to “make what will sell.” By establishing a renowned handicraft center at the school, Miss Berry ensured that the Berry Girls would have the ability to successfully run a rural household, as well as raising much needed funds for her growing school.

Although young women today are no longer expected to be skilled in household handicrafts, Berry College has upheld this tradition through student work groups such as Viking Creations and Viking Furniture. Vikings Creations, located in the Hoge Building, includes a group of students working to continue the dying art of weaving in the manner originally taught by Martha Berry. They hand-make a range of woven products, including coasters, table runners, place mats, and book marks. Viking Creation products are available for purchase online and in the Oak Hill Gift Shop. Viking Furniture, another student enterprise, is also working to preserve the tradition of quality handmade goods on campus. All of the Adirondack chairs scattered across campus were handcrafted in their workshop, located in the barns behind Morgan and Deerfield. The chairs are also available for purchase online through Berry College Student Enterprises. While the classes taught at Berry College have now far surpassed how to run an early 20th century household, the school’s focus on tradition allows Berry students to continue practicing these unique arts.

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