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How Did Brooms Become the New Ceramics?

Photo: Courtesy of Sandeep Salter.

A while back, T ’s former editor Deborah Needleman posted a picture on Instagram of a woman in Jaipur, India, holding a broom. The broom is unusual: no handle, with bristles several feet long that trail almost elegantly across the floor. Her followers were, to put it mildly, enamored. “Breathtaking broom,” commented one. “Like a gorgeous khaki tassel,” wrote another.

A couple of months later, Needleman took a trip to an Appalachian folk school where she spent a week learning to craft brooms herself. “I found the brooms beautiful,” she wrote of the experience in T. Still, she adds: “Nearly all brooms today are unremarkable objects mass-produced in Mexico, [besides] a small number of people in North America devoted to handcrafting them. The makers run the gamut from Americana buffs to hippie holdouts, and the brooms are mostly minimalist Shaker or backwoods Appalachian in style.”

Members of that small but budding number of people include Erin Rouse, who used to work in the style department at Martha Stewart Living magazine and recently launched a line of handmade brooms called Custodian; one comes dressed in a pale-pink skirt made of pleated silk. In San Francisco, artist Hannah Beatrice Quinn sells sculptural brooms with pinky-orange fir bristles and mint-colored dustpans. Multidisciplinary artist Cynthia Main crafts quirky, thumb-size brooms laced together with blue thread (others have two heads), and Brooklyn artist Ariele Alasko carves the handles of hers into squiggles and pyramids. “Furnishing Utopia” — an exhibition New York City curated by Design Within Reach — currently has no less than three brooms for sale on its site: a tall broom made of beech and horsehair by Pratt graduate Tom Bonamici, a dustpan designed by Urbancase, and a series of brushes with green, blue, and yellow handles by artist Zoe Mowat. In other words: The same artisans who would’ve taken up ceramics six years ago are now binding and carving brooms by hand.

“I definitely think that there’s a broom scene brewing,” says Rouse. “Though it still feels early days to me. American broom-making is an old-school craft, and requires specific and challenging-to-track-down equipment (and knowledge).” Plus, she adds, “Brooms are not a proven cool object — like a ceramic vessel, or a textile wall hanging. I think — I hope! — that will start to change soon.” In Brooklyn, at least, of course, that change is already afoot. HomeStories, in Brooklyn Heights, sells Moroccan-made palm-leaf brooms described, on its site, as both “poetic and functional.” And half a mile south, Salter House — owned by Goods for the Study’s Sandeep Salter — has an entire wall devoted to stylish sweepers, including a handmade birch porch broom from Sweden, a goat-hair dust broom, a Japanese-made hand broom with a handsome leather strap, and a carpet beater made of woven rattan.

Like any handmade item, these brooms are expensive. But for those who value endurance (handcrafted brooms are built to last, unlike their mass-produced, plastic counterparts) and aesthetics (these brooms should be displayed, rather than jammed hastily in the closet) the price seems worth it. “People tend to ask, ‘Are your brooms sculptures or tools?’” Rouse says. “A nice broom is right at the intersection. Which might seem strange now. But I think soon, it won’t.”

Colorful, vintage-inspired brooms made by Andrée Jardin, who has been making wood brushes in Brittany, France, for some 60 years. Jardin’s husband, George-Rene Julio, was an apprentice to a brush-maker in Nantes.

A more subdued option also made by Jardin, made with thermally treated, humidity-resistant French ash wood.

This broom, recommended by Erin Rouse, is handmade in Morocco from eucalyptus wood and palm leaf.

Rouse also recommended these horsehair brushes, which the Laundress claims are more effective than a vacuum and will last a lifetime.

Photo: Ariana Jordan Maddox

It takes Cynthia Main — who is currently an artist in residence at Gallery 123 in Berea, Kentucky — three weeks to handcraft these quirky, double-headed brooms.

Tom Bonamici is a designer specializing in furniture and timber framing, and he received his master’s of industrial design at Pratt. His handmade brooms have dense horsehair bristles, which means they sweep efficiently.

When crafting these white oak and horsehair brushes, Zoe Mowat decided to paint their handles in shades from the traditional Shaker palette.

This Shaker-style broom, which has a wooden handle finished with natural soap, is handmade on an 1890s broom machine. Its skirt is hand-pleated and sewn out of silk noil.

This Japanese palm fiber broom is sold at the very chic Roman and Williams Guild —where, according to one salesperson, they routinely sell out.

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How Did Brooms Become the New Ceramics?