Reading-Berks Guild of Craftsmen was founded in 1945. At the Berks County Historical Society, a number of craft enthusiasts encouraged the formation of a local chapter of the PA Guild of Craftsmen, which was founded in 1944. Among those speaking that night were Italo Defrancesco of the Kutztown State Teachers College Art Department and later the very popular president of the college, and Warren Hartman of the Reading Recreation Department who would play an important part in organizing our chapter. The first president of our guild was J. Allen Pawling of the Art Department of Kutztown State Teachers College and elected first vicepresident was Dr. Earl L. Poole, director of the Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery, and nationally known illustrator of mammals and birds. The majority of the 30 some original members were weavers and the annual dues were $2.
One of the first exhibits by our chapter and one which proved very popular took place during Reading`s bicentennial, in 1948. Our members demonstrated their respective crafts during 23 days at the Chapters` exhibit at the Reading Fairgrounds. In 1949, our chapter, one of only 7 chapters throughout the state, participated in the first PA Guild of Craftsmen Craft fair in the Chautaugua Community House at Mt. Gretna. When the Kutztown Folk Festival opened its gates in 1950, our members demonstrated their crafts and have participated in the festival every year.
Meetings were originally conducted at the Berks County Historical Society. In December of`1953, meeting were moved to the headquarters and workshop in the basement of the Sternbergh mansion on Centre Ave in Reading. The Reading Eagle reported that more than 150 people visited the new headquarters on Sunday, the first day of a week-long open house. The December 6 to 13 open house and exhibit was also the first annual Holiday Show, an event which continues be a very popular and successful tradition. The luxury of having its own headquarters did not last long. In 1955 the Sternbergh mansion was demolished to make way for St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church, and the Chapter was forced to move back to the Berks County Historical Society. Since 1955, the chapter has held its meetings at numerous locations, including Reading City Hall, YWCA, members` homes, the Jacksonwald School, and now meets at the GoggleWorks in Reading.
The next 10 years witnessed a modest growth in membership, which finally necessitated moving the Holiday Show in 1965 from the Historical Society to the Medical Hall on Walnut Street in Reading. The Chapter had grown to 80 members by 1972, and the Holiday Show was moved to the Sheraton, then to Penn State, Berks Campus. In 2008, the Holiday Show was moved to its present location the O’Pake Fieldhouse at the Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA
On the sunny Saturday of May 27, 1972, Reading-Berks became the first chapter of the PGC to open its own retail facility, the Craft House at Drehrersville. Located about 22 miles north of Reading in Schuylkill County, Drehrersville consisted of nine buildings built in the 1820`s in the shadow of nationally known Hawk Mountain. After much work by members, the shop opened its doors, and many special events were organized around holidays. After the close of the shop at Dehrersville in 1989, we opened the Guild Shop, a retail outlet for our members, and operated it for 7 years (1990-97). The shop also served as a meeting place and workshop location. After 1997, more effort has been put on our two festivals.
The standards committee was formed in 1967, and meets twice a year. Chapter members who are applying for state juried status are encouraged to bring their work for critique. Our members must belong for at least 3 months before they can come for chapter jurying.
First and foremost, the chapter must provide services for its members. The public and many new members associate us with our very successful Holiday Show, which started in 1948. But we have so many other programs and opportunities. Our Spring Show was held from 1981 to 1993, and again from 1996 to the present. Our student award program was started in 1980; every high school in Berks County is invited to present the work of seniors in several categories.
Every student receives a certificate and monetary award, plus 1st, 2nd and 3rd are given in each category, and several special awards in the name of past members can be given. We began awarding mini-grants in 1992 to 4 members, chosen by lottery, for educational use; they in turn are asked to present a program on their use of the grant. We began producing a monthly program on BCTV, a local TV station in 1985; the program is live and viewers can call in with questions. We joined the newly formed Berks Art Council in 1981. We were invited to participate in the well-attended Berks County Home Builders Association Show; members demonstrated their craft, and along with the chapter, received much publicity. In 1998, a member volunteered to design and maintain a chapter website. Other events include decorating the PA Governors tree, decorating the state tree in DC, the goldilocks cabin, an art exhibition at the GoggleWorks, and many other activities and programs we support.
Many of our members are involved in other community affairs, and our group is well known in the area. Members have served on the board of the Berks Arts Council, the Music Foundation, Berks Community TV, PA German Heritage Center, Scenic River Days, etc. Members have demonstrated at the Reading Public Library, Vanity Fair, local restaurants, the Pagoda, etc. We are very conscious of the importance of good public relations.
Like any organization, the R-B Chapter is only as strong and viable as its members and bylaws, and our chapter has been blessed in both areas. While it is impossible to mention everybody who has been instrumental in the chapter`s success, here are a few of many. The first to come to mind are those already mentioned and others who organized this chapter and nursed it through some difficult years. Another is Jean Ellis, a chapter member who designed our logo. The Kenderdines, Miriam (the 1st lady of Drehrersville) and Irwin, whose tireless effort we have to thank for running the Drehrersville Craft House. And finally, all the members who have held office, served on committees, or have participated in chapter demonstrations and exhibits. This article could not have been written without the many articles included in the scrapbooks so meticulously kept by Sally Keene and Elaine Vardjan.