keeps alive family tradition
Ky. Crafted artist makes
brooms the old-fashioned way
Helen E. McKinney
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 wasnt going
to give up until I made a good broom like pap-paws.
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.
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 cousins 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, Kentuckys
premier craft showcase. Inclusion in this selective grouping can bring
about wide exposure to artists who have never experienced a large-scale
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 Sues 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
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