Farmer works to sweep folk art into a new century

[gtxvideo vid=”4hNPIDT3″ playlist=”” pid=”OTSe9U1y” thumb=”” vtitle=”Hockaday Broom Festival”]

SELMER, Tenn. — Jack Martin has helped turn the art of broom making into a nearly 100-year tradition. It takes 200 broomcorn plants to make one Hockaday Handmade Broom, a business started in 1916 to make ends meet during winter months. “The truth is it takes me five months and 45 minutes — five months to grow a crop, 45 minutes to put it on the handle,” Martin said. Around 1916, Martin’s ancestors were looking to make money in the winter when the fields were frozen. The broom is a useful tool Martin said he learned to make by watching, even though it sometimes landed him in trouble. “As a kid on the farm, I would sneak into his broom shed and I’d steal the thread and tie it up on the hog fence, and I got a couple of switches for that,” Martin said. As this folk artist grew up, he couldn’t stand to see his grandfather’s wrapping table and broom press sold to a stranger, so with $100 he bought a piece of history, never intending to do anything with the business. Martin said his wife, Virginia, saw the art in the old craft. “She’s the artistic person in our family. We use the word ‘folk art’ a lot. I’m the ‘folk.’ She’s the ‘art,'” Martin said with a chuckle. Since the two have created their own family, they’ve continued the Hockaday name, selling brooms around the world and even having them showcased in museums like the Smithsonian. Perhaps it’s Martin’s demonstrations to kids that have proven most rewarding. “In the last 25 years, we’ve demonstrated to 1 million kids in West Tennessee — almost every middle and elementary school in every county in West Tennessee,” Martin said. The family’s most recent accolade came this year as they were recognized by Gov. Bill Haslam with the Governor’s Folklife Heritage Award. Martin was awarded among artists such as B.B. King and Loretta Lynn, and he said this honor could be the pinnacle of his career. “Chills ran down my back it was such a surprise,” Martin said. He doesn’t take all the credit. He said it’s the love of his life and partner along the journey that deserves the real praise. Martin still lives by the lesson he learned as a kid on his grandparents’ farm. “My grandparents always believed in hard work and a good job, and that’s still all I’m doing — doing a good job at making an old broom,” he said. Martin said in one day he can make about 12 brooms, and if taken care of, they can last about 10 years.

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