Archive for the ‘Brooms’ Category

When the Patriarchy Sweeps

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Curly Maple, ting-ting, barbed wire, basswood, felt.

Wow!  It has been over 8 weeks since my last post!  Apologies for those who might be waiting for them.

This is the last broom in the collection.  Only parts of it remain now, some were recycled by Rae for other pieces, and the whole was too many pieces and too difficult to box to maintain as a piece.

The piece was done as part of an anti-Gulf War show.  I don’t remember when the show was, nor who organized it.  Since it was during Desert Storm, it would have been 1990.  From the photograph, I’d say it was the 7th Floor Gallery at the Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus.  Rae did leave behind her Artist’s Statement concerning it, which I reproduce below.

The broomstick is a thick, somewhat subtle phallic shape, (for Rae it was subtle!) made of a solid block of curly Maple.  It was carefully rounded and shaped, and brought to a high polish.  If you looked closely at the top, there was even a slight ridge.   The skirt is strands of barbed wire, and a variety of floral shop selections, some with sparkles, some curling, so that the impression is that of the trails behind a missile lifting off.

Below the broom are a set of carved pieces of Basswood, cut into the shapes of the countries of the middle-east, though not to scale.  These were placed on a thick, irregular foam base, wrapped with black felt.

The other pieces she mentions below were never completed.

When the patriarchy sweeps

As an artist, I have the opportunity and the means to express my: hopes, fears, concerns, anger, love, political beliefs and spirituality in a visual way. My process can become a catharsis, a discharge and an exploration into my emotions, passions and thoughts. And as an artist, I am even egotistical enough to believe that the work/piece that comes out of this process — may make a difference: by supporting and validating the perceptions of some and by giving others and insights into a different perspective. Or by just being manifested into the world.

In magical societies the process of “making”, begins the process of transformation and change. When I heard the words “War is sweeping across the Middle-East today” and “As Desert Storm sweeps across the Middle-East” — my years of anti— war activism felt like a waste. I became glued to the TV like the rest of the US. But with each stroke of that camera — I became stronger in my resolve to make the art explored my concerns and despair. To begin the process of making/transforming/changing this reaction to all war, at least within myself.

War is wrong, there has to be another way to resolve conflict. The devastation of cultures is wrong. And when war, when the Patriarchy sweeps over an area, that area is torn apart. Its culture is devastated. Both the victims and the aggressors are injured. And the victims of war are not limited to soldiers or resistance fighters. Is what they called civilians/collateral damage.  That “damage” is women, children, the disabled and elderly.

When the Patriarchy Sweeps, is the first in a series of broom sculptures called SWEPT OVER. This is a war broom and speaks of the tearing apart of her region. It decries the devastation of cultures. He reveals the patriarchal assumption of its rights to have power over. It mourns victims of war — the women, children and others of all sides. When there is an “enforced peace”, who cleans up the devastation…  I hope it expresses the need for true Peace.


Honeysuckle Dreams

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

(honeysuckle, honeysuckle roots)

Sweeping Changes

I am doing another entry right away, since it was a long break, and I’d like to get all the work done.
This might be my favorite broom.  It is wild and sweet, and reminds me of her.  When I look at it, I see her dancing.  She used to love to dance, and even when she was in her chair, she would twirl and glide with music sometimes.  I still get at least a tear in my eye when I hear the Avett Brothers song, Swept Away:

Well you send my life a whirling
Darling when you’re twirling
On the floor
Who cares about tomorrow?
What more is tomorrow?
Than another day.

I am also going to use Rae’s own words for this one, again from Master Sweepings:

Southern women, tough strong, stubborn.  Mothers, grandmothers, not genteel, but wild, bodacious – dancing thru life – not ramrod straight, but laughing, courageous women who know how to bend.  Spinning, rocking, vining, rooting.

Each of the brooms could almost be considered a love letter to women, but this one is specifically to my grandmothers, who are the ones that taught me to love being a woman.  My grandmothers danced through many dramatic, sad or normal times, and each of them has given me an alternative picture of what older women are.  Wise, strong and outrageous in their own right, they worked hard, laughed, and argued with each other.  They taught me resilience.  The honeysuckle is resilient: cut it back or dig it up, and it comes back.  The honeysuckle is considered a flower by some, an invader by others, little better than a weed.  Like the honeysuckle, my grandmothers cared little for outsiders’ opinions, but grew in their own manner with their own belief system intact.
Poor women, with little education, they were anything but invisible or worthless.  Many old women live alone, cut off from affection, sexuality and life, but not these women.   Each of my grandmothers carried her own name  proudly.  They were short little women who were majestic in their stature, righteous in their anger, humorous and stubborn.  Never would these women sit meekly by and allow someone to dictate their lives, nor did they encourage their granddaughters to.  This broom is a message of reclaiming in that I want each of us to dance into our own power and catch/make our own dream.  This is the clearest message, maybe the only clear message, other than the importance of tenacity, that my grandmothers gave me.    The broom was also an acknowledgement of the skills and love of making that I got from them.  Each of my foremothers is an artist in her own right.  My great great grandma MacDowell was a weaver and a quilter, who lived to be 99, and held my oldest son in her arms.  Great grandma Nancy made quilts, hooked rugs and dolls, and raised literally millions of birds in her house and barn to sell to pet shops and bird houses.  She lived with a man for almost 30 years, and laughed about their great sex until he died when she was 74.  Grandma Dora was a seamstress and baker and the quietest of the lot, but she married her second husband at 72.  All of their art would have been considered craft  they define it as such themselves  but it is not just domestic objects that they made, used, gave away, traded and sold  it was something from the heart, made with attention and intention.  This was their gift to me.
The broomstick is made of the heavy branch of honeysuckle, cut in half and fitted back into itself so that the shape emulated an elegant classical “S” curve so often associated with women and their posture.  Grace and posture is a presumption all rural southern border state women must deal with.  My grandmothers did often tell me to stand up straight  but there was such grace, comfort and strength in their own easy posture it was easier to emulate.   I used honeysuckle because it has a relationship to the south.  I think it is the word itself that I respond to.  “Honeysuckle” rolls off the tongue, and has a sensuous sound.  We had Honeysuckle Queens and honeysuckle parades and festivals that had nothing to do with the plant.   The flying skirt of the broom is made of roots to give credence to my belief in the importance of roots as a nurturer of the strength to build the self.

Ghost Broom

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

From Sweeping Changes

Available!  $200

Driftwood, willow, silk
The Ghost Broom was Rae’s tribute to the craft of making brooms.  When she did the research for her MS in Related Art, it was clear that many of the old broommakers were worried their craft was disappearing.  While looking for what Rae said about this broom, I opened up her Thesis, Master Sweepings, and found this section on the Ghost Broom:

Something lost and drifting away.  Lost symbology.  Fading away, broom  ghost of what it used to be…

As a small child each of us may have played with, danced with, or imitated a parent cleaning with a broom.  How many of us learned from a broom about the relationships of space, extensions from our body, and moving in unison with something else? What happens now with electric brooms, vacuums, and carpeting? The broom has been replaced now by a baseball bat kept beside your bed on scary nights.  Who leans on their broom on the back porch, watching the sunset and relishing another day gone and the work accomplished?  When will we walk into another hardware store and see a flower bed of brooms sprouting up from a wooden rack, and watch the magic of a woman picking out her new broom?  What is our relationship to broom, to this artifact of culture being lost and replaced by technology and plastic? Why is everything domestic devalued?
One of the most moving experiences that really solidified my ideas about Ghost Broom happened in Chicago at Blindskills Distributors, a suppliers warehouse.  The neighborhood was rough and deteriorating and the owners were as well.  They welcomed me in, gave me ice water and stayed right there, but worked through the entire conversation, lifting and toting in oppressive heat and dust.  They supplied brooms to Shriners and Moose clubs and other organizations for fundraising projects.  The brooms they supplied to these organizations were from collectives/factories usually run by or for the blind.  They lamented that plastic brooms, brooms from overseas and even the loss of community organizations that ran these kinds of “down to earth fundraising projects” were seriously affecting these collectives.  (It didn’t affect their business  they were really suppliers of industrial carpeting).
Several of the broom factories I visited also had an impact on my concept of loss.  Mark Quinn of Quinn Broomworks, Greenup, Illinois, showed me his broom factory in progress with many people working, each making as many as 25 to 40 brooms a day.  He was animated and excited.  At each station, he showed me different aspects of broommaking  washing wrapping, sorting, dyeing, etc.  Much of the equipment he had was older, worn, and even rusty, but he had great pride in it nevertheless.  We then went to a different section of the factory, where it was very quiet, no thrumming of vises and clamps or busy voices.  There was a large machine (sitting idle) which, with two people to run it, would make 37 brooms in an hour.  According to Quinn, the greater capacity was needed because plastic brooms fall apart in maybe a quarter of the time that a “good corn broom” did.  When he spoke about the machine and how he needed it because so many folks wanted those plastic brooms, he lost that schoolboy enthusiasm.  The tactile quality of making a broom was gone: another tradition being lost.
I found a piece of honeysuckle driftwood, grey and white, bleached by the water and sun.  It carried in it a sense of loss, decay, and mournfulness.  I went into the piece with rasps and sandpaper to accentuate that sense, to cut away rot and expose hidden faces and craggy places.  I then found about 20 thin pieces of corkscrew willow to use as exposed bones of the broom skirt.  I stripped the bark, bleached them using the sun, vinegar, and bleach, and they began to take on that same weathered aged look of the broom handle.  I then drilled holes to precisely fit each stick to the broom handle in places that would encourage the illusion of the broom being one piece, such as little dimples in the wood, holes, and bumps where small branches had been.
I wrapped the piece with unspun silk, stretched sparingly about the broom to give it the look of cobwebs, disuse, deterioration, something abandoned in the corner of an old house.  I mounted the broom on a narrow rod that caused the broom to quiver whenever anyone walked by.  Many of the viewers of this broom seemed to respond to this sense of abandonment, because it was one of the brooms that people stood in front of, holding their hands out as if to touch it, to hold it, to make it better.

The broom itself has aged and transformed, is more of a ghost than it started as:

Jumping Knot Broom

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Black Cherry, broomcorn

Rae completed this broom in time for a show in Appleton titled Exploring Domestic Myths in 2000.  The show stands out in my memory mostly for the trip up to pick up her pieces, because we were hauling a rented trailer, hit a patch of ice, and though I was able to keep the truck on the road, the trailer tipped over and was wrecked.  Very glad we did not have it full of her art!

At that show, the title was Age of Union: Passion Play; Sweeping Romance/Commitment.  But ever since, she called it the Jumping Knot Broom, (or rarely the Celtic Knot broom).

Rae loved to shop for her raw materials, especially since scouring the woods was out of the question with her arthritis worsening.  She found the cherry at BVC Hardwoods, and knew immediately what she wanted to do with it.  Rae had found a book she gave me on carving wooden spoons, and the history and traditions surrounding that.  Turns out Welsh “Love Spoons”  had quite a history, and inspired her to do a carved broom.

One time-honored wedding traditions, which Rae and I had participated in, is “Jumping the Broom” as art of a marriage ceremony.  Usually just a simple broom, often a hand-made one for Pagan handfastings, and occasionally very fancy, she designed one that combined the love spoon with the broom (though I would challenge anyone to hold this one horizontally for the jump).

The repeating part of the design was transferred onto a sheet of paper, then using carbon paper put on one side of the cherry “beam”  (2.25″ X 6″ , 6′ long)  The finial design at the top and bottom detail were hand drawn, holes drilled through, and the spiral drawn on the narrow sides, then it was a matter of removing all the excess wood.  Rasps, drawknives, spokeshaves, small saws, Foredem flexible shaft, then sandpaper.

The base was made by gluing and cutting more pieces, leaving a bell-like hollow underneath, and rounding with spokeshaves and sanding.  The top fits in with a tapered mortise/tenon joint, and the broomcorn attached to two dowels, making a pair of besom-like brooms for the skirt.

The natural cherry color will get darker red with age.  I personally think this would make a nice altar piece someday.


Sunday, March 28th, 2010

From Sweeping Changes

willow, witchesbroom, soapstone, hair, grasses, fiber

PreGeneration was one of Rae’s pieces that was up for the Sweeping Changes show, and because of its configuration and size, and the lack of space to store things, was dismantled and now gone.  All that is left is the woven “spider web” from the branching on the top of the piece.

Rae wanted to use a piece of “witches-broom”, a condition appearing on a woody plant, often a tree, where the natural growth pattern is interrupted, and instead of a single branch, many are formed at a node.  The result looks like a broom or bird’s nest.  You can often see these in stands of willow growing near a stream, and that is where we found the stick for this one.  But instead of turning the branches down, and using them as the skirt, she kept it upright, and added a skirt that is more of a grass skirt, or roots, coming off the stick very low, and flowing out over the pedestal.

Within this skirt were small soapstone carvings of animals.  This piece represented an origin story, the generation of life.  It hearkens to the old explanation of “spontaneous generation” that was offered long ago as where certain creatures came from.  Like fire that will appear without a match or spark if fuel-soaked rags are left in an enclosed space, it was believed that trash and detritus would generate bugs and mice.

I have searched, but not found any of the small carvings that were in this piece, perhaps Rae gave them away as gifts, or left them as a physical libation in nature somewhere.

Sweep of the Milky Way

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

from Sweeping Changes

Cosmos Sequence, Wild Wood, dyed broomcorn.

Collection of Bankston-Thomas, Milwaukee

From Sweeping changes, and also appearing in Women, Domesticity, and Objects of Power, The sweep of the Milky Way is a subtle, beautiful interpretation of the night sky as a broom.  Rae had the stick, a found sapling with characteristic spiral caused by growing with a vine entwined around the trunk.  This wood cried out to be made into a broomstick, as so many similar sticks find their way into craft brooms at Art fairs and festivals.

She stripped the bark, smoothed the wood, and painted it flat black.  Then airbrushed and daubed pearlescent white paint for stars spiraling around the stem.  To make it glow, a clear coat of lacquer was applied.  The result looks like it could be floating in space, slowly turning with the eons and circuits around the galaxy.

The base is dark brown dyed broomcorn, tied with black cord in 5 bundles, making a star pattern.  The broom sits on a square of chamfered wood also painted black.  This is very much a Witches Broom.  Powerful and magical in appearance and energy.

Inspirational Simplicity

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Quilted Maple, Broomcorn

Available!  $600

From Sweeping Changes

This piece is probably the closest of any of Rae’s brooms to a “traditional” broom.  If it were not mounted on the iron tripod, you could easily sweep the floor with it.  One of the few pieces Rae turned on a lathe.  She didn’t really like doing lathe work, too much flying debris, noise and dust, I think.

The skirt was modeled after a craft broom she saw in a shop down south, with the broomcorn stalks still attached, and woven in a circular pattern, making a besom rather than the standard flat broom.  Robert Burns wrote a poem/song to the besom.

The wood is a piece of quilted maple, part of a larger piece that Rae bought from BVC hardwoods while Larry was still in the business.  The rough-sawn wood did not reveal the deep, lustrous, curly grain until it was polished with several ever-finer grades of sandpaper, and finally fine steel wool, and then a simple clear oil finish made it glow.  I could lose myself in the swirls and ribbons of its grain.  That stick takes the broom from its otherwise simple appearance to a transcendent glory.  Or so I’ve always thought.

Click for larger image

Serpentine Sheddings, Visceral Wisdom

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

From Sweeping Changes.

Ironwood, pig gut

This process of putting Rae’s pieces in this blog, of presenting them with as much of their stories as I can, has been a healing one.  It also has brought me tears, frustration, and joy.  One strange thing is the deja vu.  I am certain I remember writing about this piece in detail.  But I cannot find anything, and now I must draw the conclusion that I either described it in a dream, or told the story at either her memorial/birthday party or some other gathering of folk.  Ah, well, here we go again.

Rae had a lot of fun with this piece, from the rather simple design to the very complicated implementation.  I found a snippet in Rae’s Master’s Thesis, which I quote below.  For Sweeping Changes, she wanted a snake, shedding it’s skin, the skin becoming the skirt of the broom.

From her MasterSweepings manuscript:  “The first step of this breathing out is the process of thinking.  Thinking isn’t limited to intellectualizing — for me it implies a whole brain involvement to convey something that is felt, seen, and thought about.  This is followed by finding, which is a free ranging and instinctual process — and an allowing and a trusting that what I need will be found.  An example of this can be seen in the broom Visceral Wisdom / Serpentine Sheddings, for which I needed a snake handle that was shedding its skin.  My process was not to think, “now I need a 6 foot stick” — it was more like: “now I need the snake” — and then I waited/sought the snake, and accepted it when the right piece of wood came.  Then I begin the act of making — not just constructing an object, but responding to the construction and materials while “thinking” is engaged.”

The stick was a found piece of ironwood, with bark beetle grooves in it.  The skirt, to emulate snakeskin (she had no desire to either buy or collect enough actual snake skins to do it) was hand-painted pig intestine.  Yes.  Pig gut. (“visceral” wisdom…)

You can get pig intestine from a butcher shop, usually used for stuffing your own sausage into.  It comes in about 60′ lengths or longer, in a brine to preserve it.

We lived at Eagle Heights when she was making this piece.  We went outside with the gut, and stuck a bicycle pump into one end, and pumped.  It inflated like an insane balloon-animal, getting longer and longer but not thicker.  She then tied off the ends, and we strung it up like a clothesline to dry.  It shrank and flattened when it dried.  Did not hold the air very long, but long enough to make it ribbon instead of string.

Rae cut this 3/4″ – 1.25″ ribbons into even lengths of 4 feet.  She painted them with one of her favorite paints, a “Pearlescent” set of pastels that fairly glowed.  The effect was a magical multi-colored semi-transparent ribbon that did look a lot like a colorful snakeskin.  The ribbons were folded in half, leaving the fold at the top, and a colored string used to attach them to the stick.  Originally crisp and fluffed out, moisture form the air and time have left them more limp now, but still just as colorful and inspiring.  The same colored paint was used to trace the grooves left by the bark beetles in a crazy, random meander around the stick.

Sensuous Successions

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Tulipwood, flax

Available! $450

One of the 13 pieces in Sweeping Changes, and not included in any shows since, I think.

This simple broom was an exploration of shape and texture.  A very hard wood, it took a lot of carving to get the spiral worked into it.  It also took the light oil finish well.  Not a lot to say.  Within the design and its interaction with the viewer are possible associations and stories.  I know Rae, as a weaver and spinner, liked to work with flax.  The raw flax in this is quite different from linen.

What do you see?


Corn Broom/Broom Corn

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Quilted maple, spalted elm, cane, reed

Available!  $550

Rae first presented this piece in a group show called Conundrums, if my records are right.  It was the last time she used a lathe.  The handle was not too bad, but the large piece of spalted elm for the bottom was just a little too scary turning at 500 rpm.

The handle started as a piece of quilted maple, the same that Inspirational Simplicity came from.  After turning and polishing it, she carved corn ears into the parts she left square.  Then used wood dyes to color in the kernels of the corn.

She turned the base, mortised a square hole to take the top, and burned designs in, filling with more dye.

The skirt is a set of handwoven baskets, dyed to look like multicolored corn.  Many people on first glance start by wondering where she got such corn ears, they look so realistic.