Backstory and Context
In the early twentieth
century, the Appalachian region of the United States underwent a craft revival
which saw those within the region take up traditional crafts such as weaving,
crocheting, wood carving, etc. in favor of other, more classical forms of artwork
such as painting or sculpting. With this revival came the rise of a new
industry, one in which men and women sold worked from their homes to create a
variety of crafts before then selling them individually or to bigger companies.
One of the area's most heavily impacted by this craft revival was the town of
Berea, Kentucky, often referred to at the craft capitol of the state.
Capitalizing on this revival, a company, Churchill Weavers, was established,
and soon went on become one of the nation's largest crafting companies as well
as one of the most renowned to specialize in weaving.
In 1922, Churchill Weavers was established by a local couple, David and Eleanor Churchill, along what is now Churchill Court in Berea, Kentucky. Upon its opening, it became the first full-scale business in the community that was not associated with the local university, Berea College. The couple's decision to open a weaving company was, in part, inspired by David's travels to India during 1901 in which he observed and studied the local weaving industry on behalf of the British government. During his observations, he noticed that, in India, machines and power looms overwhelmingly outpaced individuals who weaved by hand. Consequently, he developed an innovation for hand looms which allowed individuals the chance to keep up with machinery and make a living through their craft. He used this innovation for his own business, Churchill Weavers, and modeled the business after the same individual efforts he observed in India, with each product produced by the company being handmade by his wife, daughter, or other employees of the business, the former of whom was also tasked with fabric design.
Churchill Weavers was innovative in that it was one of the first weaving companies to hire men in addition to female weavers, and maintained a fairly small employee pool of around 150 people who handled all of the company's increasingly large commissions. The company also made a name for itself not merely by creating and selling the expected products such as blankets and throws, but by creating purses, scarves, and other forms of clothing as well. Their innovative business decisions lent the company national acclaim, and in 1960s the company was so well-renowned that it was commissioned to create thermal blankets by part of NASA to help keep scientists warm in space.
The company experienced great prosperity from the years following their opening until the end of the 1960s. In 1969, however, David passed away, and though Eleanor continued to run the business until 1973, she eventually sold the company after realizing her children had no intention of carrying on the family business. The company's new owners, Richard and Lila Bellando, were heavily invested in the crafting community, with the former being the director of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen from the mid 1960s to 1971. Under their ownership, Churchill Weavers was looked over by Eleanor, who acted as president of the business's board of directors, and the company continued in the same spirit as it had while David was alive. As bigger companies began to establish themselves in the weaving community, the Bellandos soon felt they were unable to keep up with the growing competition and subsequently sold the business to Crown Crafts in the late 1980s, under which Churchill Weavers received both advertisement and financial backing. Despite this, the company began to lose income and business, and was forced to close its doors in 2007.
A few months after the business closed for the final time, the building which housed the business was purchased by the Kentucky Historical Society, with many of its products displayed within as an archive of the companies history. The business and building was also recognized by the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 as a result of its impact on Berea, Kentucky, and the national crafts and weaving industry as a whole.
Churchill Weavers. KentuckyHistory. August 04, 2014. Accessed July 16, 2019. http://www.appalachianhistory.net/2014/08/churchill-weavers-berea-ky.html.
History of the Company. ChurchillCompany. . Accessed July 16, 2019. http://thechurchillco.com/history/.