Ghost Broom

From Sweeping Changes

Available!  $250

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:

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