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Artifacts Collections - General Information

Berea College Artifact Collections: Information about extent, access, and use

130 Years of Collecting

The artifact collections of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center represent over 130 years of collecting at Berea College.

As early as the 1870s Bereans traveled through the nearby counties of eastern Kentucky doing extension work, managing and teaching in schools and Sunday schools, and recruiting students. A few of these people, such as Professor Levant Dodge, Professor Silas Mason, Professor James Watt Raine, and College President William G. Frost, collected interesting objects while they did their work. These artifacts included old firearms, Civil War items, and early ironwork. 

Beginning in the 1890s, Berea’s nascent craft program, Fireside Weaving, gathered samples of regional textile traditions to serve as patterns and inspiration.  These items were primarily handwoven overshot coverlets, blankets, and clothing. Fireside weaving also collected some early looms and spinning wheels for use in the program.  Some of these were preserved. 

In 1914 the College Library began a special collection of published Appalachian materials. Photographic, archival, and curio collections related to the region soon followed. The library Curio Collection became a repository for an eclectic array of items, many with local or Appalachian provenance. Over the years various college events, such as the 1955 Centennial, resulted in collections of artifacts being assembled for reflection and display. After these events some of these items lingered in the library Curio Collection.

In 1962, at the urging of Allen Eaton, the children of Tennessee collector Edna Lynn Simms donated her extensive Mountaineer Museum Collection to the College. Simms has collected nearly 2,000 artifacts from the Sevier County, Tennessee area, especially what became the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, between 1915 and 1955. Living in Knoxville, Simms was an early hiker in the area that would become the Park. Sensing the a way fo life was passing away, She collected items from the mountaineer families. In 1931 she opened the private Mountaineer Museum in Gatlinburg.  She died in 1961.  The gift of Simms' collection was the impetus for Berea College to gather into one place its Appalachian Collections, scattered in closets and display cases around campus.  In 1970 the College opened public Appalachian Museum, said to be the first college-university museum dedicated to Appalachian Studies. Berea College's Appalachian Center, an academic unit, was also created in 1970, and worked closely with the museum. 

After 1970, through the mechanism of museum collection, Berea College began systematically collecting Appalachian-related artifacts. At first such collecting focused on folk life, crafts, and mountain cabin life.  However, the discipline of Appalachian Studies matured in parallel with the Museum and the Center.  As the kinds of questions scholars were asking changed, so did the kinds of materials the museum was collecting.  Outsider art, crafts by modern practitioners, and things related to the folk revivals all began to appear. 

In 1998 the Appalachian Museum collections were merged into Berea's Appalachian Center. The Center pursued a course of increased curricular use for the collections. The collecting of things-Appalachian became even more directly shaped by research and teaching in Appalachian Studies. New kinds of artifacts were added to the collections in abundance--artifacts related to industrialization, modernization, social programs, workers' lives, and Appalachian stereotypes. 

As Appalachian Studies has continue to expand and diversify, so has our collecting within the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College.