By Lhay Browning Thriffiley
Photographs by Marianne Todd
Joyce Hicks is a Sumrall native with big ideas. This owner/ founder of Blooms, a Hattiesburg-based garden shop, is now moving into the business of helping artists and entrepreneurs in the West Hattiesburg/Sumrall area.
It starts with an old cotton gin, the symbol of the cultural heritage and industrial legacy of Sumrall. The gin is a large tin building at 14 Pine St., adjacent to the Long Leaf Trace and near the restored train depot. Its old cotton scales are still active. Now called “Cotton Ginnovations,” this rustic space serves as an incubator for homegrown artists as well as a gathering place and creative consortium.
Reclaimed wood doors serve as tables for exhibitors, and an open-air market for farmers to serve and sell their fresh produce, jellies, jams and homemade goods is the plan. Cotton Ginnovations offers visitors a chance to see Mississippi artists and crafters in action as they share their homesteading and artisan skills with the community.
Hicks has received interest from creators of pottery, woodwork, metalwork, glass blowing and stained glass. Crafters and artists demonstrate, sell wares and potentially offer classes to the community. Visitors are welcomed to homemade biscuits with cane syrup and coffee while they browse.
Painting, basket-weaving, quilting, beekeeping, candle-making, cane syrup-making and other homesteading demonstrations occur on site, but there is no limit to the activities that could eventually take place. The gin’s proximity for bike-riders is also a plus. Hicks said she anticipates that bike access will shape the area in the future, possibly to include restaurants and lodging.
“The call for handmade items is getting greater,” said Adam Allen Berry, a Hattiesburg potter, who sells his wares at the gin. “This is a very important outlet, and more places like this are needed. I think it will be received with a big response.”
Hicks has a history of stocking Mississippi-made and handmade items at Blooms, located in downtown Hattiesburg’s Venue building. Her store is adjacent to the Depot Coffee Shop, across from the newly restored historic train depot. The artists she has supported in the past are taking note of this new opportunity. Many have made a commitment to be “in residence” in Sumrall for Saturdays toward the end of 2011.
Hicks and her daughter, Adrienne Hicks Garranich, weave sentences together as they talk about the idea, punctuating the conversation with giggles or unexpected waves of emotion. As they describe how long it has taken the idea to take shape, and what a strange journey it has been, their excitement builds. Both are full of passion about this idea and its potential for economic impact as well as a cultural impact on the area.
Hicks is unsure if Cotton Ginnovations will be an official for-profit business or a non-profit organization, and for now, she says, it is “an experiment.” Artists keep their profit after due diligence and tax has been paid. Hicks remains open-minded about how the experiment will take shape. She anticipates that Hattiesburg’s west side growth toward Columbia will make the Saturday drive a convenient one for both communities. It could be event space some day, a unique and cavernous place to hold a party or a wedding with a rustic theme.
“Sometimes you just know that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing,” says Garranich, about her mother. “It’s like all the signs just lined up and let her pass.”
WANT TO GO?
The gin is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays in November and December, except Christmas and New Year’s eves.
Want to know more?
Artists and visitors can call 601-606-7200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.