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Artist Makes Brooms

Henry Co.’s Williams
keeps alive family tradition

The Ky. Crafted artist makes
brooms the old-fashioned way

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

BETHLEHEM, Ky. (August 2002) – Donna Williams has been hooked on broom making ever since watching her “pap-paw” Winford Smith craft one 14 years ago.
“I just had to try it,” she said. “I wasn’t going to give up until I made a good broom like pap-paw’s.”
Williams’ brooms reflect her love for history. A piece of herself can be found within each sweep of a broom she crafts.
“The search for my persona ended when I began ‘traditional’ broom making,” the Grayson County native said. “Traditional broom making is a very old method of making brooms.”

Donna Williams's
Brooms

Her great-great-grandmother, Mary Jane Hawkins, was the first known broom maker in her family. At that time, broom making was more of a chore and not recognized as a specialized craft.
Williams’ great-uncle Lee Hawkins and her aunt Pauline Hawkins carried on the tradition. Williams fondly remembers watching them as a child but being too consumed with playing to learn the ins and outs of broom making.
It normally takes from 15 minutes to one hour to make one broom. Williams has a special broom maker device that her grandfather recreated from an old photo and memory with Paul Linder of Munfordville. With this tool Williams can crank out four brooms per hour.
Brooms can be formed by using any sturdy stationary post, tree, etc. Williams also uses a tying table as her constant aide.
A supplier in North Carolina usually provides Williams with materials to craft her brooms. But for a little diversity, she said, “I am currently using some beautiful, colorful broom corn grown in Hungry. It looks and feels like Kentucky broom corn, just like pap-paw once grew. I use Kentucky broom corn whenever I can get it.”
No two broom handles are ever the same. The straight, standard handles accompanying her brooms come from North Carolina, but the twisted and unusual stick handles Williams’ selects herself from the woods or from her cousin’s farm.
A third kind of handle she uses is one that is hand forged by members of the Kentucky Blacksmith Association. Broom prices range from the simple $3 broom, to the more expensive $45 brooms with hand-forged handles.
Williams was recently juried into Kentucky Crafted: The Market, Kentucky’s premier craft showcase. Inclusion in this selective grouping can bring about wide exposure to artists who have never experienced a large-scale marketing arena.
“I never really dreamed the day that I had my brooms delivered in Frankfort that they would make it.”
But she need not worry because Williams is in such demand at art and craft shows throughout the year that she is currently booking appointments two years in advance.
Her brooms can be found at Sue’s Emporium on Main Street in La Grange. “People are very interested in her handmade brooms. We sell quite a few,” said owner Sue Kelley.
Her brooms are also available at A Taste of Kentucky in Louisville and Mammoth Cave National Park.
Williams is also a pre-1800 living history re-enactor and prefers to dress in period clothing while attending festivals where she is showcasing her talent. Williams’ day job is as administrative secretary for the Oldham County Conservation District in La Grange.
She and her husband, Ray, moved to Henry County from Hart County after their son, Daniel, was born.

• To view Williams’ brooms or to contact her, visit her Internet website at: www.geocities.com/kybroommaker or www.redstarr.net.

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