POMEROY — Broom making is one of many heritage crafts that probably wouldn’t be remembered at all if it weren’ t for a few people like Meigs County’s Marvin White who makes brooms the old fashioned way.
You’ll find him at festivals occasionally demonstrating how it’s done and putting his products on display for sale.
Last summer, he was one of the crafters who set up shop on the Chester Commons during the annual Chester Shade Days staged every summer in July by the Chester-Shade Historical Association. He’s been there several times over the years, and perhaps will be returning this summer.
With all the technology around and little thought for preserving skills of generations past, most children today have little knowledge or interest in the pioneer arts which brought this country to the place where it is today.
For those of us who have a heart for preserving the skills of past generations, factory-made store-bought brooms somehow just don’t have the character of a broom made by someone like Marvin.
His interest in broom making was to be expected since his father Clyde White became one during World War I. As history tells us, that was a time when there were shortages of many things, including brooms.
About the same time, Marvin became really interested in broom making, his daughter Denise Arnold, who was already delving into creative arts, decided she wanted to learn how to make brooms, too.
Denise White said her interest in broom making stemmed primarily from knowing the family’s connection to the craft, along with a realization that too many skills of generations past were not being passed along to today’s youth.
The history of broom making in the White family, as related by Denise, began in 1917 when her grandfather Clyde made his first broom.
The story goes that his father had planted some broom corn, and it was on a dare from the elder White to his son, that Clyde made that first broom. In preparation he looked at the broom making equipment of a neighbor, tore a broom apart to see how it was made, gathered up what supplies he needed, and proceeded from there to make that first broom. His first effort was a success, and from then on making brooms became a chore for the winter months when bad weather kept him inside and away from farming activities.
Denise said she was told that at one time, her grandfather was making as many as 400 brooms in a season. Those brooms were sold in White’s Store at Flora, a family-operated business, at a price of slightly over a dollar. The elder Mr. White continued making brooms on the side porch of his home until the early ’70s. Over the years, the number he made dwindled, and in his later life he was making brooms only for family and friends.
Clyde White died in 1976 when Denise was 12 years old, but she remembers watching her grandfather make brooms. It is that memory which in later years triggered her interest in broom making.
Both Marvin and Denise learned the heritage craft of broom making from the late Frank Addy, a broom squire from Coshocton. In fact Marvin bought some of Addy’s broom making equipment to use in making his brooms. Denise purchased some 1880s equipment which was still in working condition. It hadbelonged to Birdie Ridenour, a local broom maker.
Brooms, of one kind or another, have been around forever and are said to have been used to sweep out caves, cabins and castles.
The style, the materials used, and the sweeping quality have changed over the years, as have sizes and lengths. But the uses have remained pretty much the same — to sweep the floors, to knock down cobwebs and to provide a straw to use in checking if the cake is ready to take out of the oven.
There are dozens of superstitions about brooms, two of which you might like remember:
“If you place a broom on its handle in a corner, it brings you good luck.”
“If you sweep dirt out the front door, it brings you bad luck.”