Visiting the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts in Seymour on Saturday turned into a wild ARTventure for 9-year-old Katherine Veatch.

She was introduced to a big, black bird named Russell Crow and several species of owls, all rescued by Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Hope.

She got to pet a variety of farm animals owned by Seymour FFA members including a 16-year-old donkey named Joanne, rabbits, a calf, a farm puppy and goats.

Being an art center, there also were tables set up for kids to make animal-related crafts such as frog masks and fish made from old CDs.

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There was even a local man, James “Chainsaw” Johnson of North Vernon, demonstrating his talent for using a chainsaw to carve logs into animals. His finished product, a 3½-foot owl, will be auctioned off at SICA’s upcoming fundraiser, An Artful Affair, on Sept. 12 at The Pines Evergreen Room.

The art center’s pottery barn and antique printing press and museum also were open, and the main building was hosting the opening of SICA’s annual judged art show.

Beth Veatch, of Seymour, said she read about the Into the Wild event on Facebook and thought it would be fun for her family to attend together.

“Our daughter loves animals, and this sounded like a great opportunity for her to get to see some animals up close and learn more about them,” Veatch said. “She’s just fascinated by all this.”

“We didn’t even know this place existed,” Katherine’s dad, Marvin Veatch said of Utopia. “It’s very educational, even for adults.”

Katherine said she was surprised to learn that owls can hear as well as they do.

“They can hear a mouse’s heartbeat from 30 feet away or a mole underground,” she said.

She also learned that barn owls are considered endangered in Indiana, and that it’s illegal even to have possession of their feathers.

The family supports the art center by attending Friday Night Live concerts there and enrolling Katherine in summer art camp.

“We want to get her signed up for art lessons soon, too,” Beth Veatch said.

Darnell Dukes, director of SICA, said originally, the plans for the event were to conduct a craft beer and wine tasting fundraiser, but that idea fell through.

“We decided an event for families would be a good way to bring people out and raise awareness,” Dukes said. “When we were brainstorming ideas, we asked what attracts families and kids.”

The answer, she said, was animals and art.

So she got in contact with Jeanna Eppley, adviser for Seymour High School’s FFA chapter, and asked if there were any students who would be willing to bring animals for a petting zoo.

Eppley said the event was a great way for her students to be more involved with the community and to teach others about agriculture.

The students also sold hot dogs, chips and drinks to raise money for FFA.

Seniors Morgan Ritz and Olivia Lee, dressed in their yellow FFA T-shirts, said getting to talk to people about animals and agriculture is their favorite part of being in the organization.

Ritz has been in FFA for three years and said it’s been a great experience.

Events like Into the Wild give FFA members the chance to interact with younger kids and adults and share their passion for agriculture with them.

Ritz brought Joanne the donkey and explained how the animal has its own personality.

“It’s a cool opportunity for kids who don’t have animals or who don’t grow up on a farm,” Ritz said.

Besides letting the kids pet the animals, the FFA members also take the time to talk to them about where their food comes from.

“Some of them don’t know that their food doesn’t just come from Walmart,” Lee said. “We try to give them a better appreciation for what they eat.”

Ritz said kids and even adults are surprised to learn that there are many more products they use that come from cows besides milk, hamburger and steaks.

“They have no idea that shampoo and jello have ingredients that are byproducts of a cow,” Ritz added.

Lee brought several of her rabbits, which were a favorite of 5-year-old Aayla Bush, and her cousin, Lilli Williams, 7, both of Seymour.

“I got to pet a rabbit at a pet store once,” Williams said.

“And we saw them at the fair,” Bush added. “They are so cute and soft.”

Lee said when it comes to rabbits, a lot of kids don’t know that they make good pets and can be shown as 4-H projects in the fair.

“They think that rabbits are only wild animals,” Lee said. “But mine are spoiled and like to be held all the time.”

Dawn Williams said she was glad she brought her granddaughters out to the art center to see what was going on.

“They just love the animals and are having a blast out here just running and playing,”she said. “It’s a great event.”

Into the Wild was sponsored by BloomBank in Seymour.

“We’re very appreciative that we have such great community support,” Dukes said. “We plan to make it an annual event and hope it grows.”

Attendance was steady throughout the day, and although it wasn’t crowded, Dukes said they accomplished what they set out to do.

“We just wanted to provide a free activity for families to get them to come out here and enjoy the day,” she said.

Jessie Lainhart of North Vernon brought her three children — Gavin, 6; Reese, 2; and 8-month-old Archer — to the event after seeing information about it posted online to the Jackson County Christian Home School group.

The kids agreed that it was fun making animal masks and getting to pet the real animals.

“We saw a barn owl and other owls,” Gavin said.

“I hope I get to see a cow,” Reese added.

“It sounded like it would be a good time for them,” Lainhart said. “Anything for them to learn something new is good.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.