The southern Appalachian Mountains have been open to scrappy settlers since the early 1800s, but modernization has always moved a bit slower here than elsewhere. The terrain and industry have kept the culture close to the land and to tradition throughout mineral booms, logging busts, and—more recently—tourism. Helen itself was incorporated in 1913, but even into the ‘30s, farmers in the surrounding areas preferred mule to tractor power. Likewise, the traditional craftwork in ceramics, wood, and textiles remained stronger here. Now, these passed down crafts are treasures.
You can still buy some of the finest crafts representative of our region as well as those from of our analog culture of old Europe right here in Helen.
When southern mountain handiwork first became well-known it was because of a book called Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands in 1937. The Meaders family of White County was made famous for their quirky face jugs, but also made a variety of conventional ash and lime-glazed stoneware.
Ben Dockins and Betsy Ledbetter carry on the pottery tradition with their shop, The Willows. The Willows stock is primarily from a group of 20 local artisans, some of whom work and create in the shop, which is on the outskirts of downtown. You can find dinnerware, mugs, sinks, handmade jewelry, and face mugs (and some mugs are even customizable).
(If you are more interested in the pottery legacy of White County, visit the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia, less than ten minutes away in Sautee Nacoochee.)
Making it to a toy store or getting ahold of a Montgomery Ward catalog was near impossible in Appalachia. Tim’s Wooden Toys harkens back to a simpler time but is certainly no less fun. Logging was a mainstay industry around here—so there was always extra wood. All of Tim Bramlett’s wooden toys are handmade in shop: trucks, cars, rubber band guns, trains, and helicopters. Many families just peek in for a learning experience. Looking for something special? Many of these toys can also be personalized to suit the kiddo in your life.
The home of Wildewood was built in 1911, before Helen was even incorporated. It was of course a lumber company row house. A walnut tree grows through the front porch. Inside you’ll find a variety of naturalistic charms, among them wooden wind chimes, birdhouses, and garden décor.
Glass seems more mystical and high-tech than wood for sure, but humanity has known for longer than we are able to pinpoint that you can melt sand into glass—e.g. Mesopotamian tablets from 3,300 years ago. Scott Warner, a fourth-generation glassblower himself performs his craft daily in downtown Helen at The Glassblowing Shop—flamework, stained glass, and furnaceworking. Each blown glass item is unique, and Warner is happy to create custom orders.
Everything in Helen has a German spin, so why limit our crafts to our geography? At Lindenhaus Imports you’ll find German cuckoo clocks, authentic Oktoberfest steins and hats, Russian dolls, and other fine and festive items you won’t find anywhere else in this area.
Shopping around Helen is fun anyway, but now you might hone your taste for something special—something with its own story. Finally, if you visit during Oktoberfest, you’ll want to attend our yearly Arts and Fine Crafts Festival, a magnet for the best local makers.
To experience all the handcrafted magic Helen has to offer for yourself, check out our cozy accommodations here!