GILLSVILLE — Have you ever wondered how to milk a cow — but you’ve never tried?
Or maybe you’ve always wanted to sit on a big green tractor but you’ve never had the chance?
Well, you could try those and other unique opportunities at the 16th annual Turning and Burning Festival at Hewell’s Pottery in Gillsville.
The event was one of a few in the area on Saturday, including Art in the Square in Gainesville, that unofficially kicked off the fall festival season.
In Gainesville, close to 100 artists gathered in booths around the downtown square selling paintings, pottery and jewelry. Visitors and participants also enjoyed live music, a kids’ art area and a scavenger hunt among businesses on the square.
Nearby, a half-dozen amateur cake decorators gathered for a cake decorating contest, one of several art-themed events going on throughout the day.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed. All the cakes were absolutely excellent,” said LaTrelle Clark, owner of the Party Shop, who judged the cake decorating competition. “It is just really exciting to be a part of this.”
In Gillsville, the Hewell family’s roots go back to pre-Civil War days, and a visit to the festival is like taking a walk back in time.
There are horse-drawn carriage rides, women in bonnets making baskets and blacksmiths hammering over hot iron.
The whole family contributes to making this unique escape possible for the community.
Nathaniel Hewell, son of Chester Hewell who oversees the festival, was in charge of driving a horse buggy on Saturday. He said the festival is a chance for people to see things that they don’t normally get to see.
“It is not things that you would see in the city,” Nathaniel Hewell said. “Especially dealing with the animals. You don’t get to see that sort of stuff when you are in the city.”
Kids could get up close and personal with goats, horses and other farm animals. And it is educational, he added.
“A lot of kids have never seen these sorts of things done, like the blacksmithing and the actual hand throwing of pottery,” he said. “A lot of kids have no idea where their corn meal actually comes from. They don’t know what contraption actually does that.”
Kids were free to touch, sit and learn about farm vehicles up close.
Hewell said he enjoyed being able to drive the horse buggy, too.
“It is peaceful and one-on-one,” said Hewell, who also said he enjoys getting to see a lot of the people he has known for years at the festival.
Helping drive the buggy was Eli Hewell, Nathaniel’s 11-year-old nephew. Eli helped turn pots and mowed the 120 acres of the Hewell Farm in preparation for the event.
Andrew Stevens, 15, from Blairsville woke up at 5 a.m. Saturday morning to prepare for his duty at the Turning and Burning festival: making soap.
“Soap takes three ingredients: lye, oil and water,” Stevens said. “We will put it in the pot and cook it and stir it anywhere from four to six hours, and then we’ll pour it in a mold and let it sit overnight. Then we’ll cut it into bars the next day.”
This is the second time Stevens has come to the Turning and Burning event.
Jerry Bennett of Toccoa brought a unique visitor: his “milk cow.” It actually was a barrel that Bennett painted to look like a cow. He created it to teach children how to milk a cow. Children sat on a stool as Bennett guided them through the milking process.
Bennett said he spoke to a teacher at the festival who said she gave her students a test that asked where milk comes from. It showed a picture of a refrigerator, a grocery store and a cow.
“They would mark the refrigerator because they didn’t know where the milk came from,” Bennett said.
Sharon Shackleford of Monroe, who was visiting the festival for the second time, said she likes the fact that there are many different kinds of activities and different things to see at the festival.
“There are things to learn while you’re here,” said Shackleford. “It is good family time.”
Staff writer Kristen Morales contributed to this report