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|So you want to do something really
different but don't have a lot of time.
1. Natural historic material
Broom corn or Sorghum Vulgare is the principal material we will be using in this class. Originally
thought to come from Africa It found it's way to China around the 14th century and was mentioned in
Italy about the 1500's. From Europe it was just a matter of time before it made it's way to the colonies.1
Some thoughts are that Benjamin Franklin brought over some seeds from Europe. Levi Dickenson
from Hadley Massachusetts is purported to have developed his broom using Sorghum
vulgare, having planted quite a few acres of it.2 In 1798, the Shakers or the “United Society of
Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing” at Watervliet in Albany County NY began growing and using
broom corn to make their brooms. Most brooms at that time were round but a Saker, Brother Theodore
Bates invented a press to make the first flat broom. Jesse Wells, in the mean time, invented a machine
for turning broom handles.3 The middle 1800's were apparently great broom making years. As the
population moved westward, so did broom making. There were many thousands of acres that were
planted with broom corn. The Shakers, incidentally, grew a lot of broom corn and made brooms for sale
and distribution in and around New England and other regions. If you were to look in the early city or
town directories in your area, there could be "broom makers" listed. In my hometown of Manchester
NH, in 1875 under "Broom Maker" the name David Libbey appears, although I suspect that the Shakers
may have had the market pretty well cornered. Broom corn is now principally grown in Mexico. If you
have good soil with adequate drainage and average sun, there should be no reason you can’t grow
your own broom corn. This is preservation with a purpose. We need to re-acquaint ourselves with our
past, our culture, nature and common sense.
2. An intro to basic broom sustainability.
Without going into the many philosophical reasons, we only have to see how a locally grown and
fabricated item supports basic sustainability. From the broom corn and the wooden handle to the
flax linen cord binder and the dye, we see a number ways we can accomplish this.
3. Working with your hands.
Working with your hands opens the door of human creativity. Your basic senses are once again called
upon to interact with different materials. What was once lost or suppressed will now be rediscovered.
Theory will become practice, thought reality. We all have this capacity at various levels. Our
perceptions and ultimate responses will eventually release our intuitive nature. Self-reliance will be a
nourishing by-product. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward.
4. Imagination, creativity and experimentation
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work"
The fundamental tenets of broom making are not difficult. Once you learn the basics you can easily
repeat the process. It does, however, take a little imagination for the next step. As one would surmise,
for a broom or brush to actually function, it has to have certain physical traits. We could think of these
as moderate guidelines. After we look at the broom as a whole, consider its function and start to look
at its basic parts, shape, size and color, we utter those two intriguing words: What if?
5. Interesting broom and historical links
BROOM CORN AND BROOMS
HOME LIFE IN COLONIAL DAYS Alice Morse Earle
ITS MEANING AND MESSAGE'
1. 1919. Sturtevant's Notes on Edible Plants. Hedrick, U.P. editor
2 1898, Home Life in Colonial Days, Alice Morse Earle
31905. Shakerism Its Meaning and Message, Anna White and Leila S. Taylor p.372