I just moved from a tiny apartment in collegetown to a lovely town home on the fancy side of town (conveniently 15 minutes from the studio where I work most of the time). It’s all hardwood floors, and has a great “vintage” feel to it, being built in 1961 and having little done to alter it since.
After our housewarming/New Years party (a bold move on our part, I know) there were candy wrappers and beer bottle caps and leaves and dirt and acorns and sequins and chips and there were still the little black paper circles from those difficult paper cameras Mary and I tried to make all over our floor. Swiffers are not meant for this task, and getting on my hands and knees with my small hand broom made me feel more like Cinderella than anything else, and I didn’t move to the fancy side of town to feel like Cinderella in her pre-prince-charming years. Now, I had a broom at my old apartment, but I’ve been told that taking a broom from your old home to your new home is terrible bad luck, and I don’t need any more of that. I’m done with “bad luck.” So I eagerly rose to the challenge of buying THE broom. THE broom that will reside in our home as long as we stay here and clean up not only our first mess, but all the ones to come.
Do you know how hard it is to find a simple broom for less than $15 on the fancy side of town? It’s fucking hard. I can either spend $13 on a stupid, flimsy, red broom at the grocery store or get the $18 made-from-recycled-bottles broom from the specialty store that attaches to a pole you buy separately, but the specialty store doesn’t sell the pole. Am I missing something here?
When I start complaining about this to a friend, he stops me and tells me to make my own. I always tend to make something myself anyway, why is a broom different? Make my own broom. Perfect. That night I’m on Pinterest searching all their brooms and planning my own broom and I start reading the history of brooms and I’m now a little enthralled with brooms.
Brooms are, at their core, a very primitive tool. Cavemen brought cavewomen branches and twigs and leaves to sweep the floors of their cave homes. Some cavewomen told cavemen to sweep the damn floor themselves, but that’s another issue. Up until the 18th century, brooms were pretty much twigs or palm fronds or whatever you had available all tied to a stick, and it was something that would fall apart fairly quickly. Nobody thought about having a broom that would last for years. Then some dude named Levi Dickinson in MA was growing some mad sorghum crop and started making brooms from the strands that grew at the top, that looked a lot like corn (it’s now called broomcorn). Everyone in the neighborhood bought them from him and it was often said that Levi made a damn fine broom. He revolutionized everything, and everyone wanted a broom that lasted a long time, and had cool braiding on it, and hung from a hook and all these fancy new things that his brooms were doing. Brooms became more innovative, and grew as an industry. European broom companies went out of business when they had to compete with American broomcorn brooms. The term “square peg in a round hole” actually comes from the construction of brooms during this time. Then, of course, Shakers made them flat and everyone lost their shit and bought the flat brooms and stopped caring about round brooms. Brooms as we know them today derive from these flat, stitched brooms.
I am really interested in brooms as something makeshift or ephemeral for the same reasons photography has interested me as something captured that was fleeting. They are assigned the element of air, which is why witches use them to fly. Wicca still use brooms in their practice as a tool for casting. Artists, like Mark Wagner, use brooms. He made a broom out of shredded dollar bills as a political statement against the US policy of “sweeping” away problems with money. I see brooms showing up in my work a lot more.
The anticlimax of this story is that my studio threw away several brooms on tuesday, and I was able to bring two home with me and sweep the damn mess away. I still plan to make my own, but we’ll see how that goes.