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As a long-time fan of the art of everyday things, I was thrilled to discover a completely unlikely source of inspiration at our recent Mother Earth News Fair. Hint: If you think brooms are a strictly functional object designed for the back of the pantry, guess again.

Historically, many farmers grew a little broom corn and crafted their own brooms to use around the home place. At the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, I met John Holzwart and his partner Linda Conroy, who are carrying on that honorable tradition with a very modern twist, proving that art is an approach, not a matter of materials.

 John Holzwart broommaker extraordinaire  

“Little John” uses no machinery to craft his rustic brooms, which are made from all-natural broomcorn and handles crafted from a variety of materials, from tree limbs to carved sticks, shed antlers to wrought iron and even guitar necks reclaimed from the landfill. (He will do custom work, if you have an old guitar or other object you’d like turned into a broom handle.) Every piece is individual, bearing its own personality and character – which in my book is one definition of art.

John and Linda grew their own broomcorn for a while, then the business grew to the point that he needed to contract out that portion of the process. As Grit readers might remember, I grew up in Lindsay, Oklahoma, the “Broomcorn Capital of the World,” so running into John and Linda at the Fair was a great reminder of home. His broom-making demonstration drew a steady stream of interested observers. Since we’ll be returning to Seven Springs in September 2012, I plan to spend more time observing how he does the actual work this time, instead of oohing and aahing over these very cool brooms.

Here’s a video interview I did with Linda (owner of Moonwise Herbs and a wise, wonderful woman in her own right) explaining a bit more about the brooms, which you can order from Little John’s website, and which I think would make great gift ideas for weddings, showers or the winter holidays.

K.C. Compton
10/17/2011 2:33:10 PM

Hi Dave -- Yes, our jobs are pretty cool sometimes, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to meet so many interesting people and to keep learning something new all the time. I loved those beautiful brooms, and I agree that most of them are too lovely to actually put to work. But they actually were made to be functional. I enjoyed the story of the blind pastor and his brooms. Maybe he DID make them himself -- that would be something a vision-impaired person could do, since so much of it is tactile. Have a great middle of October day! --KC

Nebraska Dave
10/14/2011 5:33:33 PM

K.C., you and other staff members have the best job ever. You get to travel around to these neat festivals and talk with the most interesting folks. It's easy to see from the interview with Linda that both her and John are very passionate about their broom making. Some of the brooms made by John and Linda I would have a hard time using because they are just artistic. I did get a good laugh out of the "sticking a fork in it" comment. We used to have a retired blind pastor that traveled the streets my city selling brooms. I'm sure he didn't make them but they were the traditional broom corn style brooms and folks bought them from him on a regular basis to support his business. He has long since departed from this world but folks still remember him roaming the streets selling his brooms. I have no idea if he really needed the money from the broom sales or not. I suspect it was to strike up a conversation with folks of a spiritual nature more that the selling of a broom. He was really a city Icon for many many years. Have great uneventful festival traveling day.

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