For artisan Cynthia Main, the start of her journey as an Appalachian craftsperson began at Old Town’s Gallery 123, where she discovered the City of Berea’s Art Accelerator program. Less than a year after Main graduated, her brooms have drawn national attention, cited in Garden & Gun’s 10th Annual Made in the South Awards.
“It’s huge to get national press like that, and because all the people they wrote up are fantastic, it’s just an honor to be on that list,” Main said. “The impact it’s had on my business has been great so far.”
The timing of Main’s notoriety couldn’t be better, since she recently opened a storefront for her business, Sunhouse Craft, at 414 Chestnut Street. The former site of Hall’s Printing, many will also recognize the store as the old location of the Five and Dime. In a cooperative effort with entrepreneur Laura Wick and Berea Maker’s Market, Main’s store will feature work from local craftspeople and artisans who might not have the opportunity to market their creations in a storefront.
“It is a chance for us to provide a space to over 40 local businesses to showcase their stuff. It’s also a test market for us to get an idea of what Berea is interested in. We are trying to see which components really work,” Main said.
Opened just in time for the holidays, Main’s store will be open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the Christmas shopping season. The store has yet to be formally named.
Art Accelerator Director Jeffrey Carpenter said the timing for the new store may be especially advantageous because of trends in the market. “One of my dreams was to have a place that would just feature Berea-made products, and I think this is a great opportunity for that to happen on an experimental scale, to see how it does during the holidays. Hopefully down the road it will be something permanent,” Carpenter said. “I think people are looking for simplistic, simple, hand-made yet functional products they can cherish, and this is a good way of getting back on that track.”
Main credits the Art Accelerator program with helping her kickstart her business, but she also expressed great appreciation for MACED and the Air Institute of Berea College. MACED was instrumental in helping her market her work, while the Air Institute helped her find ways to maintain her artistic integrity while being a commercial success. She also gives a great deal of credit to the Art Accelerator, which helped her learn and grow her business.
Main was working on a farm and in a cabinet shop in Missouri when she stopped in Berea on the way to North Carolina,. While at Gallery 123, she met Art Accelerator fellow Justin Dean Burton, who encouraged Main to apply to the program. Eighteen months later, Main has opened a business in Berea, hired one part-time worker, and is planning on hiring more.
“I can’t believe Berea has this program. I tell other makers at a national level that this is here, and that it let me launch my business,” Main said. “Before there was just no way to focus on my business, and this was the piece of the puzzle that I needed.”
Both Carpenter and Berea Tourism Director Kerri Hensley said Main has been an example for how the program is supposed to work. “Cynthia was always determined to get the most she could out of this program. I’m very excited for her and the city is excited for her,” Carpenter said. “This is the kind of outcome we wanted to keep young people here, to help them be successful and be supported.”
Hensley agreed, noting. “She’s an example of what the Art Accelerator is about; to find very talented, hardworking individuals that have a desire to own their own business,” Hensley said, adding that Main has been a credit to both to the program and Berea. “Cynthia being recognized in Garden & Gun magazine, which is a very high-end magazine, is wonderful exposure for her and our town. That’s something all of us can be proud of, especially Cynthia,” Hensley said.