Author: Virginia Siegel, Folk Arts Coordinator, Arkansas Folk & Traditional Arts
“That’s just too pretty to be used.” Arkansas-based master broom maker, Shawn Hoefer, says he hears this frequently from his customers. However, Hoefer insists that not only are his brooms made to be used, but they are also “labor savers.” A pretty broom works better, lasts longer, and smells sweeter. Plus, you’ll want to keep your broom out and on display.
Hoefer, a resident broom maker at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Arkansas, has been making brooms for over thirteen years. Hoefer and his wife started out with other crafts, including soap-making, weaving, and cheese-making. Hoefer says he loves broom making because it brings together many skills. “I get to do dying like we did in the fibers, I get to do some weaving like we did in the fibers, I get to do some woodworking on the handles, and everything comes together to make something greater than the sum of its parts, so I fell in love with it,” says Hoefer.
Apprentice Sheryl Hartz, of Nacogdoches, Texas, grew up with old-time music and learned to play the fiddle from her father. Her interest in learning to make brooms took root when she purchased broom making equipment, including a kick-winder, which is a large device used for tying brooms. She says that she was drawn to broom making and found connections between the musical tradition she grew up in and the broom making craft. As her interest blossomed, she began reaching out to broom makers who could teach her about her equipment and the process, which led Hartz to Shawn Hoefer.
The craft broom making community in the United States is very small but well-connected. Unlike other traditions that are bound by geographic location, the broom making community keeps contact through competitions, shows, and a vibrant online community, which Hoefer helps maintain. So, when Hartz decided to learn more about broom making, it wasn’t strange to look for a teacher out-of-state and outside of Texas.
In 2017, Hartz completed a short-term workshop at the Ozark Folk Center with Hoefer, and upon learning about the Texas Folklife apprenticeship program, Hartz knew that Hoefer was the artist she wanted to work with again. The apprenticeship is structured so that Hartz can work closely with Hoefer through every step of the process. The pair hold concentrated hands-on lessons over week-long sessions held throughout the apprenticeship year. To date, Hartz has learned to make over ten different broom styles through the Texas Folklife apprenticeship. By the end of the apprenticeship, Hoefer says he hopes to have taught Hartz closer to 20 broom styles.
Both Hoefer and Hartz say the apprenticeship program has been an important experience. “Teaching is a great way to learn,” says Hoefer. Hartz says she’s stumbled into it but can’t imagine not doing it now. Hartz reflects, “Everything [today] is sort of already done, completed, it’s quick…in addition to what [the apprenticeship] is doing for me, I feel like when somebody has a chance to watch somebody making things from hand and see how it’s done and learn about the history…it’s good for people…it’s important to keep it going.”
For more information on Arkansas Folk & Traditional Arts, please visit www.folklife.uark.edu