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Unicoi County festival welcomes newcomers

Jennifer Sprouse • Oct 6, 2012 at 11:07 PM

While the Unicoi County Apple Festival is usually one big family reunion for many people attending, there were a few first-time festival-goers and vendors in the mix Saturday taking in the sights and the sounds.

The crowd of people walked through the middle of the festival as many items like jewelry, quilts and, of course, apples, caused a few to stray from the path.

One unique vendor included a woodcarver and painter, Vickie “Joey” Tolbert, whose big display item was a stained bedframe that she had made, which came with a headboard that had two horses carved in the wood.

Tolbert, a resident of Erwin, said that she caught the art bug when she was really little and inherited her natural carving ability from her grandmother, who had learned from earlier generations in her family.

She said she uses a variety of wood to make her pieces, including spruce, cedar, red oak, cherry and yellow pine, and that each piece varies in price range. She said a custom-carved full-size door ranges from $4,500 and up and on something like the bed frame and headboard, the price could be anywhere from $35,000 and up.

Also on display were her paintings of horses, country life scenes, pumpkins and fruit, made by using both oil and acrylic paints.

As a first-time vendor of the festival, she said she was having a great time and was pleased that her art was grabbing so much attention.

“It’s been really good. The people are so sweet and kind,” Tolbert said. “I’ve had a lot of people come for orders ... because everything I do is custom art. I draw it up to what the customer wants and from there I build something.”

Standing underneath a large umbrella to shield herself from the constant sprinkle of rain, Pam Hill and her husband Jim, were taking in the sights.

Traveling to Erwin from their home in Morristown, Hill said she had read about the festival in either a catalogue or a magazine one day and marked her calendar to attend.

“I love apples. That’s one reason we came,” she said. “We were hoping to get some good, fresh apples.”

She said that even though they had just arrived at the Apple Festival, she said she and her husband were surprised to see just how much the festival itself contained.

“We didn’t realize this was such a big event,” Hill said. “Lots of crafts, food, some apples, apple products, things for the kids. Lots of activities for the kids.”

And while you could easily eat your way through the festival with foods like kettle corn, donuts, apples, corn dogs and roasted sweet corn readily available, Kathy Senft was busy selling and sampling some jelly creations.

One Screw Loose — a company Senft owns and operates with her sons and Amy Earp, a friend from Atlanta — specializes in making a variety of jellies that are not exactly meant for toast or biscuits.

“We have some unique flavors,” Senft said. “We have beer jellies, balsamic vinegars. We make sweet tea jellies, coffee jellies.”

Packaged in 14-ounce jars, she said an individual jar of jelly was selling for $8 or customers could purchase three jars for $20.

Senft said she was really impressed with the festival and already has vendor paperwork filled out to reserve their spot for next year.

“It is very well organized, very friendly crowd and we’ve really enjoyed it,” she said.

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