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Small Journeys: Reflections while traveling in central Kentucky – Part 2 out of 5

July 27, 2009 by · 2 comments

Roger Conner Jr


On Sunday morning I awoke early, restless to do something. Still not hungry, but the hotel promised a nice brunch, and I did not want to miss the opportunity to check out the dining room which had been highly recommended by friends and press alike.


Finding my mood, I realized I was in the mood to be spoiled, and I was. The young hostess and waiters almost embarrassed me with their attentiveness, tending to my every wish, and the brunch was spectacular, prime rib, steamed asparagus and buttered corn, a house salad with “homemade” ranch dressing, and the hotels signature “spoonbread”, a type of cornbread spooned on the plate, absolutely sensuous with a bit of butter (not margarine mind you, but butter).

The room continued to get more and more crowded. I wondered if the dining room was always this busy on Sunday morning when I overheard one of the patrons mentioning her mother. Having lost my mother in 2001 I had forgotten it was Mother’s Day.

A modestly distinguished looking older couple was being seated at the table next to me in the company of a blond woman about my age (late baby boomer, around forty-five). She was as devoted to the comfort of the older couple as the waiters were, but in a more personal knowing way, in the way only a devoted daughter can be. The woman was attractive, full figured but not to excess, a friendly open smile and well dressed.

Her accent gave her away as a Southerner, and she was polite with the waiters, pleasant to deal with but still confident and knowledgeable in her manner. I was instantly interested in her, and discreetly listened to the sound of her voice without being voyeuristic concerning her conversation. I snatched glances hopefully without seeming to stare.

She wore no ring on her left hand, and offered me the opportunity to steal a bit of conversation with her, once in regard to my preference for the pepper grinder on her table as opposed to the shaker I had (her father did not like having to deal with a pepper grinder) and once regarding the delicious dessert buffet. She was charming, that the was the only work that kept coming into my mind.

Should I risk trying to establish a more lasting connection, perhaps drop her a note with my e-mail address, or simply asking her more about herself? I did not want to intrude on her special day with her parents so I let the opportunity or risk pass by. Such was the excuse I gave myself, when in truth I simply did not have the nerve to introduce myself.

Once more, I envied the young and the easy way they seem to connect. Not so many years ago, we were the generation that could connect almost without effort. Where had that sense of ease with one another gone? I left the dining room feeling not only alone but lonely.

I worried that I would have nothing to do given that it was Sunday, but found a one page flyer in the lobby of the hotel informing that there was to be an “International Fair” in Memorial Park that day. Rare for craft shops and tourist attractions to be open on Sunday, I had gotten lucky. I asked for directions at the hotel desk, and found my way quickly to the park.

The international fair was in it’s final day of three, so the music and exhibits had surely thinned out a bit from the earlier days, but there was still plenty to see in the way of crafts at the fair and the open shops on the square. Beside Berea College, it is the crafts that Berea is best known for. There are craft shops of every description on or near the Old Town Square, and of particular interest to me was the Gastineau metal craft studio and the art glass studio of Michelle Weston.

There is something dramatic, almost mystical, in bringing the imagination to cold lumps of raw material such as metal or glass, and forcing into it the spirit of the artist and the spirit of our time. In both studios the patron can see the forges and tools, feel the heat from them when they are working and view the method as well as the product.

After a looping walk around the square, I made my way back to the International Fair, and walked along looking at a mix of handmade local crafts at some booths and mass market trinkets at others, finally wandering into what would be one of the more interesting art and craft finds I have made in a very long time.

William H. Patrick stood behind his display and asked “Now that you have looked, do you want to hear the rest of the story?” Before I had left his display, I must have heard him repeat these words more than a dozen times, as he explained the creation of Chinese inside painted snuff bottles.

An overview of this art form can be found on the internet here:
And the website of William H. Patrick, a snuff bottle dealer from Harrodsburg, KY can be found here:

Mr. Patrick entertained and educated all who would listen about the creation and lore of the modern “inside painted” snuff bottle.
Essentially, these are small bottles that can be held easily in the palm of the hand, and are painted on the inside of the bottle using minuture brushes and tools.

Some are painted on both front and back while others have an image on one side only with signature or lettering on the back side. The bottles must be treated on the inside to create a milky smooth surface to receive the paint, and the artist must work in reverse, painting the details first and then the larger color fields last. This is exquisite work and if the artist is good, stunningly beautiful.


Below is a detail of the bottle in the upper left corner from the photo above, a dancer holding flowers, and captures the elegance that is possible in this art form.


Mr. Patrick spoke of the difficulties the artists face in making a living engaging in such a time consuming and demanding art form, and some of the masters of the art are compelled to return to commercial or even labor trades to earn a living. The craftspeople of Berea are likewise familiar with the struggle between art and commerce, between the conflict of doing the things which brings beauty and calm to our lives, what we love as opposed to what we must to survive.

The dignified calm place of creation and craft is not assured in our culture. It is the effort of special people in special places who create them. Berea and Berea College are special places, and the patrons and supporters of such places are crucial to the survival of craft in a world that is more interested in producing and consuming “products”.

I returned to Boone Tavern, having found the place too special to leave after just one night, and slept again in a charmed room in one of the most comfortable beds I have ever known.

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