In a world of mass-produced goods, there is always a special place for handcrafted objects.
Warren Olney is a craftsman dedicated to the art of handmade brooms, and it was a pleasure to chat and learn from him when I met him at a fair.
Born and raised in Pasadena, he is now based in Oregon. He learnt to make brooms from his father, and that was the start of his lifelong passion. He travels all over the country displaying and sharing his knowledge of this American heritage craft with the public.
When asked how long it would take for one to be a good broom-maker, Olner was modest in his answer and said: “I’m still learning.”
The brooms are made from the sorghum plant, grown in Texas, and he uses an interesting-looking broom-making machine. Like many objects made with personal attention, the handcrafted brooms are built to last. One customer told Olney that the broom that he bought from him had lasted 17 years.
At the same time, these brooms are valued not only for efficiency and durability, but also for its link to history. When talking about the subject, Olney likes to take the listeners on an imaginary trip to the pioneer days when salesmen brought their household wares on peddler wagons. “Each wagon specialized in one type of goods. For example, one would be selling brooms, another tin plates,” he elaborated. He writes about the history of broom-making on his website http://www.broomshop.com.
Olney is teaching his grandchildren who are in their 20s the craft of broom-making, and he hopes that they will expand their interest in the craft in the future.
I guess I always have a soft spot for handmade brooms. One of the items from my childhood in Singapore was the broom that my grandmother made to clean the yard. Of course, unlike Olney, she was an amateur, a resourceful homemaker. And being in the tropics, the coconut tree provided the material for the broom. She used the stiff midrib of the coconut leaves to make what is known as penyapu lidi, or stick broom.
Learning history through household objects: always so colorful and enjoyable.