Pioneer Craft House

Pioneer Craft House (PCH) began operation 60 years ago on the corner of 3300 South and 5th East with the purpose of keeping alive the skills necessary to survive in the wild west 150 years ago. In those 60 years conditions of survival have changed appreciably, and those wild west skills have been rebranded as avocations necessary to survive the stress of the Twenty-first Century.

Most people have never heard of the Pioneer Craft House  or, if they have, thought it was a hangout for octogenarians of the local hegemony (it’s not). The persistent phrase is, “I’ve driven past that place hundreds of times and never knew what it was.” That made a little sense if you were incurious and all you could see were glimpses of pleasant old buildings overwhelmed by decades of vines and shaggy trees. But it recently underwent some tree restoration and removal, peeling away a layer of mystery, to reveal a handsome schoolhouse and lovely mature specimen trees.

Buried behind the Victorian structure in the front is a flat-roofed 1960s building, a woodshop, a kiln building, a greenhouse, and a cottage brought in from somewhere else. Nearly everything is painted barn red.

This is actually a complicated operation for the simple concepts engendered there. It’s a multi-layered, multi-racial, multi-generational center for crafts, skills, and art. But it’s also an historic site where the first schoolhouse was built in Salt Lake City in 1847. That structure, now gone, was made partially of clay bricks formed by pioneer children — imagine the value of getting the little pupils to build their own schools today – and was ultimately replaced in 1880 by the Victorian brick and stone building we see today. PCH is also a museum, a puppet theater, an arboretum, a place for refugees to learn how to use sewing machines and how to plant vegetable gardens in zones 5-7, a Tuesday farmer’s market, and on summer nights it’s a place where they stretch fabric between two huge trees to screen movies to the neighborhood kids.

There is a nostalgic atmosphere about the place – it has the feeling of an old summer camp, without the water.

Whether it’s from a love of the subject or the love of the student, the all-volunteer staff seems absolutely passionate about teaching quilting, sewing, spinning, knitting, weaving, painting, drawing, Native American flute-making, silversmithing, jewelry making, stained glass and fused glass making, and hopefully not the next antiquated skill: black-and-white film developing. The University of Utah Lifelong Learning also holds some of its courses on this campus. And PCH is currently enjoying another resurgence. According to flute-maker Bill Hughes, when he started teaching two years ago they offered about two courses. This year they offer close to 35.

The other puzzle piece of PCH is the museum of disparate oddities in the Victorian building. This collection was made largely by Glenn Johnson Beeley, the driving force of PCH for from 1947 until her death in l981. She was an enthusiastic salvager who lured onto her board the directors of surplus operations from colleges, school districts, and towns in order to obtain supplies, furniture, equipment, machinery, and looms for her purposes.


She was not afraid to ask for something she needed and, once she acquired it, never threw it away. How she got hold of a nun’s wimple-pleating apparatus, a printing press used by Catholic priests in early Utah, and the portable spinning wheel (pictured above) once owned by Mahatma Gandhi, is anyone’s guess — Mrs. Beeley did it all, and from a wheelchair.

And then there are her 500 antique puppets from all over the world which were used in puppet productions at PCH for decades.

The rest of the museum collection has been categorized as Western Americana, or stuff that was handmade by somebody, maybe in the West, and at the risk of raising the ire of Mrs. Beeley, it’s not going to get thrown out now. Some of it saw the light of day for the first time just last November – there is a YouTube video of policemen and firemen pulling out of the attic old desks, an old chart revealing human body organ systems, and a late 1800s baseball uniform from the old Scott School. The museum is currently open by appointment, and during the farmer’s market. Course listings are found at pioneercrafthouse.


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2 Responses to “Pioneer Craft House”

  1. Jane Grau August 13, 2010 2:49 am

    Hi — I don’t know who you are but thank you for the absolutely lovely and — surprise! — largely accurate description of PCH. Several of us have been working hard for over two years to create the place you’ve depicted on your site, with an emphasis on modern crafts. Because of its name and history, many people mistake it for an historical recreation where we demonstrate broom-making. Some believe the fiber arts and silversmithing are “lost,” when in fact they are quite active and beloved. I see by the pictures that you’ve been there within the last two months. I’m sorry I missed meeting you. You made the outside of the buildings look good, shabby as they are! And the puppets, too! Thankyouthankyouthankyou.


  2. Jane Grau July 16, 2011 12:51 pm

    Hi — Haven’t visited here for a year. The description is still largely accurate but a lot has changed. The overgroth has been sheared back, for instance, and we now have the Teacher’s Courtyard with a dyer’s garden and a living wall. You must come see! The patio and Redwood Building are slated for renovation before the year is out, with the former sporting a brand new kiln area to show off our pottery classes (wait until that’s in before you come see!). Last Sept we opened a Gift Gallery that showcases work by our instructors such as hand-bound books, felting, paintings, knitted goods, handmade wooden items, and more. And we have a website where up-to-date information about our classes and instructors can be found.

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