Posted on Mon, Oct. 20, 2003

Hundreds of artisans show their handmade wares at Mossy Creek

Telegraph Staff Writer

Avery Gregory grew up in the deep piney woods of Houston County where tens of thousands of people come each year with an appetite for sweet tea and handmade crafts.

Gregory's mother, Trudie Bartkus of Marietta, has sold cornshuck dolls each of the Mossy Creek Barnyard Festival's 24 years and Gregory tagged along through her childhood, picking up skills from the hundreds of artisans who sell at the event.

The Mossy Creek festival is an exhibition of artists who gather to sell mostly handmade wares ranging from homemade soap to paintings, jams and jellies. And like any good festival, the two-day event includes plenty of food and music.

About 20,000 people attended the events Saturday and Sunday, and Gregory was there, doing something she promised she'd never do.

After many years of playing in the woods while her mom sold dolls, Gregory said she swore she wouldn't come back as an adult. She wouldn't be a crafts maker and wouldn't travel the country selling her wares.

"I spent my entire adolescence swearing, never, never, never, never," Gregory said.

But it happened, and Gregory was selling handwoven beadwork jewelry this weekend at the Mossy Creek festival.

"They'd pinch her cheeks and say, 'Are you gonna make cornshuck dolls when you grow up?' " Bartkus said of her daughter.

Bartkus is still there too, selling the cornshuck dolls she has peddled for more than 25 years.

For these artisans and others, Mossy Creek is more than a twice-a-year festival - it's a family.

Gregory, now a resident of Columbia, S.C., said she has fond memories of playing beneath the pines and getting into trouble now and then.

She and a friend stalked the hayride as children. There was no good reason for it; just good fun.

"Sometimes we would just follow it and pretend we were Indian scouts," Gregory said.

She tried an office job for a while. A "job that required pantyhose," her mother called it.

But Gregory said her heart was with arts and crafts.

Gregory used to play with the daughter of Jeanne Mack, who has sold watercolor paintings at 23 Mossy Creek festivals.

Mack, of Elberton, said being a full-time craftswoman is a tough way to make a living. But she keeps selling because of the people she meets, including Bartkus and her daughter.

"It's like family and that's part of going back regularly to a show," Mack said. "You may only see them twice a year but you know their children and you go out to eat and catch up."

And to hear Mossy Creek co-founder Carolyn Chester talk, it's the bond between the exhibitors that helps make the festival special.

Chester said she scrutinizes each artist to see who should come back next year, and it's no easy feat to get invited back every year.

"It's nothing we do, it's just the personality of the exhibitors and the visitors," Chester said.

Bartkus, Gregory and Mack speak just as highly of Chester and the Mossy Creek events.

Between the three they attend about 50 crafts events each year, and all three say Mossy Creek is the best.

"A lot of shows bring in junk and this show does not bring in junk," Bartkus said.

Gregory agreed and Mack said the exhibitors should know.

"This is what our lives revolve around," Mack said. "Most of us have another show we're doing next weekend."

Gregory's life has revolved around the Mossy Creek festival for 24 years now, but the times have certainly changed.

She can no longer wander the grounds stalking hay rides because there's work to be done.

"It's more fun now because I get to be in charge," she said.

To contact Charlie Lanter, call 923-6199, extension 307 or e-mail

© 2003 The Macon Telegraph and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.