Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Folk Art of Brooms and Broom-Making

At one time, a Delta farmhouse wasn't complete without a set of brooms and whisks to sweep the dirt out the door, clear the cobwebs out of the corners, whisk away the fireplace ashes, and quickly remove crumbs from the table. . .There has been the need for a broom as long as there has been someone to insist on cleanliness, and the Delta is no exception. . .not only for inside the home, but outside, too. . .Many tenant homes rid their yards of grass by sweeping them. . .The cleaner the yard, the better. . Old brooms or handmade branch brooms were utilized. . ..Not one blade of grass or weed escaped the weekly yard sweeping. . .A ritual that was repeated over and over into the 1950s and 60s. . .I remember as a child being curious as to how a few of the tenants yards had no grass on them, until one day I saw a lady sweeping the dirt. . .I found it an odd thing to do until I realized it was her way dealing with the grass and weeds. . .The dirt packed down into an almost concrete hardness over the years.
House brooms were not always bought at a store. . .They were often crafted at home from field straw, broom straw, or corn husks. . .It's another folk art that is rarely practiced anymore in the Delta. . .As with the Rag Rug looms, John and I thought we'd revive the art. . .So, we journeyed to Kentucky and Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill to be taught by the experts of American broom-making. . .

We met the instructor the day before the workshop in the basement of the Center Family Dwelling. . .He was demonstrating broom-making to the public. . .We were fascinated and more than ready to give it a try the next morning.
We also learned that before 1797, brooms in America were merely tree branches and brush used to sweep the floor and clean the ashes from the fireplaces. Sometimes  crude brooms were fashioned by tying something on a stick or handle: straw, hay, fine twigs or corn husks. These crude brooms did not sweep well and fell apart after a short time, even though strong linen twine was often used. 
The sweeping quality of brooms changed in 1797 when Levi Dickenson, a farmer in Hadley, Massachusetts, made a broom for his wife, using the tassels of a variety of sorghum (Sorghum vulgere), a grain he was growing for the seeds. She thought Levi’s broom was exceptionally good and told friends and neighbors about it.

By about 1810, the sorghum used in brooms, had acquired a new name, Broom Corn, as the British called all seed bearing plants, "corn." The sorghum also looks similar to the sweet corn plant. It's tassel became the broom material that is still used in quality brooms today. The broomcorn that Shaker Village utilizes comes from Mexico. Little is grown in the United States, except for personal use.
Early brooms were mostly round. . .but in the mid-1820's the Shakers started making brooms, changing the design of the round broom. They eliminated the woven stems up the handle, the holes and the pegs, and used wire to bind their broom to the handle. They then put their broom in a vise, sewing it into the flat brooms we use today. While their flat broom sweeps a rough surface very well, it does not do as quick and thorough a job as the earlier on a smooth surface as a round broom does.

In our workshop, we learned to make whisk brooms. . .a turkey wing, a hawk's tail, and a small round brush. . .and we had a close-up demonstration of how the flat broom is crafted.

Our results were not quite as perfect as the instructor's the day before. . .though once we learned the basics, it's a folk art that is easily practiced and perfected at home. . .At the end of the day, we had a full basket of whisk brooms to take home with us. . .

not perfect. . .but they do give an air of the primitive, don't they? . .Wonderful for decorating, as well as use. . .

Be sure to visit the DUNCAN FARMSTEAD Pinterest board: BROOMS AND BROOM-MAKING for more decorating with brooms inspiration. . .

Once we get our technique down, we may offer a few classes of our own here at the Historic District. . .Our homemade brooms will be displayed in many of the buildings as well. . .such as the shotgun houses and company store. . .As our inventory grows, they will be made available to purchase.
Until then, if you would like to try your hand at making your own brooms, check out the links below. . .It's a wonderful outdoors family project for summer, too. . .Broom straw isn't a necessity. . .We have a number of options growing free along the ditch banks and tree rows. . .twigs, grasses, pig weed (grin). . .

Making a Straw Broom OFF THE GRID NEWS : A straw broom is easy to make, and the project is one that would be fun to do with the kids or a as a great back-to-nature project that would be ideal for a group activity at a craft fair or other special event.
Things you will need: Straw, A stick to be used as a broom handle, Twine or wire for binding, A knife and scissors for finishing touches
    Handles can be ordered from a supplies store for a more commercial look, but if you are going for rustic or are taking advantage of the items you have available to you, you can make your own using branches that you have collected. It is a good idea to strip the branches of their bark and allow them to dry for a few months before using them to ensure that no cracking or splitting will occur when you put them to use.
Clean your straw so it is free from dust and debris, shaking bits loose without using water, which can cause your broom to mold.
Divide straw into ten separate, equal bunches. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE



Monday, March 9, 2015

Lights-Camera-Action...We're Gonna Be In Pictures


On Sunday. . .with banks of snow still piled high and the threat of rain. . .Carter Moody made his way to the Duncan Farmstead to begin filming a documentary about the history of Dell (AR), past and present . . . A junior at Armorel High School, Carter's family is well-rooted in Delta history. . . His father Glenn attended Dell and Gosnell Schools--born and raised in the small community of Half Moon. He now farms and owns the Farmers First Gin Company outside of Dell. . .Carter's mom Debbie is a Mississippi County native, too, attending school in Blytheville. She now teaches 6th grade at Armorel.
The Arkansas Historic Places Student Film Competition was suggested to Carter by the East School facilitator Mrs. Bell. She knew of his interest in filmmaking and local history, encouraging him to enter. . .As it turned out, the project has become two-fold. . . First to enter the Arkansas competition with a 15 minute documentary, in which he could choose a building or a place of historical significance. . .He decided instead of a single building that he wanted to document the town of Dell and its history. . .how it has changed over the years. He realized that many of the stories are being lost and wanted to help record some of them. . .maybe teach others a little of our Delta history along the way.

"There is a real sophistication in the work of Arkansas's young filmmakers. . .When students work with their own ideas and are allowed to create freely, the results can be astounding. . . Student films are worth seeing. You come away charmed and surprised by the talent.”  (AETN)

The second project is for the East Conference, where local students come together and share a few of their school projects. . . It's all about community and teamwork. . . Several of Carter's class mates will play a big part in the editing and prep of both documentaries, the second documentary being much longer then 15 minutes. Carter will represent Armorel at the conference.

We were thrilled that much of Carter's documentary will be based on an interview with myself, our photos and research. . .Carter is a delightful young man. . .and we are proud to help foster his creativity. . .We'll be watching closely for the outcome. . .If it were left up to me. . .of course, he'd win the prize. . .He certainly won our hearts. . .We are so excited that he'll be representing the Delta in the competition and conference.

FilmPrizeLogoAETN's Student Selects: A Young Filmmakers Showcase is an annual event that grants future filmmakers the opportunity to submit their film and video handiwork for possible broadcast on AETN, streaming on and screening at the Little Rock Film Festival (LRFF) and the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (HSDFF).

In partnership with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and the Arkansas Humanities Council, ninth through 12th grade students may compete for the Arkansas Historic Places Student Film Prize, which honors student documentaries about any historic site in the state. Films must focus on a site in Arkansas that is at least 50 or more years old. Films are awarded prizes based on geographical location of the subject matter – the Ozarks, the Ouachitas, the Arkansas River Valley, the Timberlands and the Delta. 
Watch for more about Carter and his projects in the Town Crier Newspaper. . .coming soon. . .

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Snow Cream Anyone?

Waking to a Winter Wonderland is pretty much a novelty for us. . .but that's what we found this morning--March 5--when normally we'd be seeing jonquils raising their heads out of the ground. . .

The farmhouse porch was as far as I thought I should venture. . .Drifts are almost neck high in places. . .but isn't it beautiful? . .Old Man Winter's last calling card. . .

And just when I thought it would be days before we could dig out. . .along comes Good Neighbor Billy to clear our drive. . .

Ahhhhh. . .LIFE IS GOOD. . .