*This story first appeared in The Budget’s June 6, 2018, Local Edition.
By Josh Yoder & Beverly Keller
The vision of Dan Raber is coming together one artisan at a time at the Colonial Homestead Artisans Guild in downtown Millersburg. It is the only full-time arts facility in Ohio dedicated to educating and training others in traditional, handcrafted, sustainable and artisanal practices brought forth from 1750 – 1840.
“Master craftsmen from throughout Ohio and across the United States will be featured here,” explained Deb Miller, president of the board of directors for the nonprofit.
She noted that Raber’s vision for the center is one that was based on his store, also located in downtown Millersburg, that features colonial tools and wooden items. His idea sparked a conversation between Mark Irwin who now serves as the facility’s general manager and now board member Caleb Miller.
About two years ago, Raber came to Irwin and told him to quit his job in order to run the Colonial Artisans Guild that he felt could be a school like no other. And after speaking with Miller, plans began to take shape.
Irwin indicated that the groundwork is being set now to help the facility grow over time. “Right now, we’ re trying to help people understand that we have a building and we are starting off with a strong list of classes,” he said. “This building right here in the heart of downtown Millersburg is going to be our hub of activity.”
Classes on the first run for the group include blacksmithing, woodworking and even gun building. There will be other classes offered with a focus on food preservation, cooking and baking and fiber arts like rug making. All classes will have levels of expertise ranging from beginner to professional, including intermediate and advanced. “We want people to find their level and learn,” Miller shared.
While there will be much taught about how things were done in the late 1700’s, there will be some modern techniques and power tools used within reason. Ultimately, the group would like to minimize its dependence on electricity in favor of solar and other alternative technologies.
Until now, people had to travel to other states — Wisconsin, Kentucky or farther — in order to get hands-on experience with craftspeople in their element. The hope is that this business has a positive economic impact on Millersburg and Holmes County as a whole, as those traveling here to take classes need lodging as well as food, gas and more. Long-term plans call for the purchase of 40 to 60 acres of land to host larger classes, events and even a museum of pioneer tools. An apprenticeship program is also on the table.
Later this year, the group hopes to expand their offerings to teach skills like timber framing without traditional fasteners as well as glass working, visual arts, pottery, paper arts and even stringed instrument building and basket weaving. “We plan to have a wide range of half- day and full day classes as well as two-day weekend offerings to meet the needs of our clients,” Irwin stated. “We will add things as they are requested and we are able to fill them.”
Artisans range from Doug Unger, who is a famed banjo and mandolin creator, to Dan Fruth, a well-known Holmes County gun maker and Bill Schultz, a Sugarcreek-area wood carver, as well as Bill Morrison, a sourdough breadmaker from Millersburg.
The Colonial Homestead Artisans guild is located at 181 West Jackson Street in Millersburg. For more info, call 330-473-5532.