For a Smile…
All of Broomtown was abuzz because boy-broom and girl-broom were getting married. Everyone felt certain that the bride-broom and the groom-broom would make a lovely couple. The night before the wedding, however, bride-broom told groom-broom that she was pregnant with a little whisk-broom. “But, how can that be?” wailed groom-broom, “We haven’t even swept together yet!”
The History of the Broomsquire
Rudimentary brooms, which were nothing more than a branch picked off the forest floor, were used for centuries to sweep caves, camping sites, cabins, and castles. Over time, people began to tie straw into a make-shift handle composed of twigs, corn husks, or stemmy hay to sweep the dirt floors of their homes and around their fireplaces. While these crude brooms were a welcome from the tree branches formerly used, they did not sweep well and fell apart after a short time. In fact, the phrase "flying off the handle” refers to a time when a crude broom would fall apart after being used by the matriarch, during the frustration of keeping a house together and clean.
The first evolutional change in broom making was brought forth by Levi Dickenson in 1797. Legend has it that he used he used the tassels from his harvested sorghum to make a broom because he was in short supply of straw. Shortly after this variety of sorghum was renamed broomcorn. As is turned out, the broomcorn materials not only lasted five times as long as straw, but it also swept better than previous materials as dust is attracted to the sorghum fibers whereas it was repelled from the straw fibers.
Along with the improvement in broom material, another advancement shifted the broom from a handmade house broom to a highly desired item at the local mercantile shop. Before the 19th century, broom-making was an idiosyncratic art; most were tied using a square piece of lumber, spooled with linen like a bobbin, and held in tension with ones legs outstretched holding the lumber bobbin in place. In 1810 the foot-treadle stying machine was invented. The treadle machine became an essential part of the Industrial Revolution. Customers now had a choice of buying a smaller handled broom for use in tight areas around the fireplace or a long handle one to sweep the open wood or dirt floors in their homes and shops, albeit all brooms produced were still round.
The exquisite and elegant craftsmanship of the Shaker’s changed the design of the round broom into that of the flat broom most commonly used today. Using a large custom-made stand-up vice, they employed farm-grown linen twines to sew the broom flat so less sorghum was needed fo each broom and a the sweeping area was enlarged.
In the late 1800’s broom making was given another boost as it was discovered that broomcorn grew much better in the newly expanded western states. This discovery significantly increased the amount of broom shops around the country where the workers were paid handsomely for their craft. Yet, in 1994, with the passage an implementation of NAFTA, broom shops were shuttered by the hundreds in favor of the cheaper Mexican brooms. Today, a small number of craftspeople keep the historic art of broom making alive and vibrant. For a household item, comfortably perfected in its design after so many decades, the broom’s staying power—both as a cleaning tool and cultural symbol of neat domestic tranquility—is remarkable and deserved.
The Broomsquire Finds Flow
There are a characteristics of flow that the broomsquire enters. First, the broomsquire finds a physical location that offers the ability to completely concentrate on the task at hand. Secondly, a clarity of goal must reverberate in the back of the mind of the artisan and at the same time allow time to slip away as a non-factor. Lastly, the craftsperson must find a balance between a a challenge and the skill to create. Finding the balance of challenge and skill is the hardest part of finding flow. Not being challenged enough and the project will become boring and unfinished. A project that is too challenging for the level of skill, and the project becomes too hard to accomplish. In other words, the project must challenge the artisan to push themselves to be their best, but also enable their skills to accomplish their best.
Words from Jason Gold, Our Broom Squire
While broom-making relies fully on all five of my senses, I find that my sight is the last sense I rely on. I LISTEN to the sound of the broomcorn being tied against the handle and judge from the sound whether or not it is too tight or too loose. I FEEL the tensile strength of tying string and determine the proper tension that needs to be used each time I wrap the handle. I TASTE the sweetness of the broomcorn in the air to determine how long the broomcorn needs to soak before being tied. I SMELL the freshness of the broomcorn and it squeezes the water from the fibers as the broom is tied tight. And, I SEE the blood rush from my fingers when I twist the broomcorn around the handle and pull it tight.
Jason Gold, 2020
Fun Quotes & Facts
“I was a shy kid with a broom handle that I pretended was a microphone.” (Patti LaBelle)
“A new broom can sweep the floor, but an old broom knows where the dirt is.” (Paul Mooney)
For a Smile…
An old blacksmith bound for retirement picked out a strong young man to become his apprentice. The old blacksmith was crabby and exacting. "Don't ask me a lot of questions," he told the boy. "Just do whatever I tell you to do."
One day the old blacksmith took an iron out of the forge and laid it on the anvil. "Get the hammer over there," he said. "When I nod my head, hit it real good and hard." … Now the town is looking for a new blacksmith.
Role of the Blacksmith
One of the greatest turning points in human history came when man acquired the knowledge of metalworking. The strength of metals, coupled with their ability to assume virtually any form, allowed people to create new technologies enabling metal to became a part of everyday life, from cutlery to weapons. From its place of origin in the Mediterranean, blacksmithing spread throughout the Old World.
Blacksmith's uses a variety of different tools and equipment. Some tools used are hammers, axes, chisels, tongs, pliers, etc. Unique to this profession is the fact that almost all of the smith tools were created by the apprentice, enabling unique development in tools style and versatility. While blacksmiths of yesteryear did not face many hardships of a solider, they did often get lead poisoning from working carelessly with lead.
The smith days starts well before dawn with a primer fire in the forge. This means chopping wood, gathering or buying coal, etc. For the next 10 to 12 hours smith’s spent most of their time making horseshoes, eating utensils, door handles, hinges, weapons, and tools (such as hammers, wedges, picks, shovels etc).
A Village Blacksmith was often treated with great respect as their profession was the most compulsory profession in the village. They often lived in a small cottage or flat within sight of the smith studio. A Castle Blacksmith lived within the protection of the castle walls and crafted and maintained the weapons and armor of Lords, Knights and Men-at-arms.
Blacksmithing has not passed into history. As modern blacksmiths redefine the nature of their work, they are finding more students to ensure that the art will continue to change and evolve into the next generation.
The Blacksmith Finds Flow
Think about the Flow a blacksmith experiences as a Jazz band finding their collective rhythm from their independent sounds. Every action, every sound, and every thought follows inevitably from the previous one. The song begins rough and disjointed, illuminating empty space with run-away harmony. Then, the individual musician’s ego falls away and the band finds one other despite the cacophony and a distinct blend of harmony and structure begin to evolve. Once this harmony is reached the first thing to occur is that time no longer has the same influence that it did a few seconds earlier. This is not to say that the moment of flow is found in passive, receptive, or relaxing times. Just the opposite. The experience of Flow occurs when “a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi).
Words from Wade Buck, Our Head Blacksmith
“I appreciate the energy captured by the fabrication of a forged piece and the design process it entails. The majority of my work is a result of experimentation with the inherit properties of materials and my intent with the fabrication process. The physical demands and concentration involved in blacksmithing allow me to reach a meditative realm where my hammer flows freely and intuitively. This mental state helps to focus my movement and energy. I enjoy forging steel because I can see the hammer textures frozen in the steel as it cools. The effort to push materials to their full potential develops a creative style that resonates the sincerity of my intent.”
-Wade Buck, 2020
-There are no mistakes in blacksmithing, only rapid design modifications (Adlai Stein)
-When you have a hammer, everything is a nail. When you have a blacksmith, everything is anything you want it to be. (Maslow, Kaplan or Twain)
Annealing is the process of heating metal and then allowing it to cool slowly. Annealed metal is softer, making it more workable and more ductile. Steel is annealed by heating it until it glows for a while, and then letting it cool to room temperature in still air.
A knife bolster is the junction between the blade and the handle. It makes the knife stronger, more durable, and serves as a counter-balance for improved handling.
A brightsmith is a person who works with bright metals like tin (aka “tinsmith”), copper, or brass.
Ductility is the property of metal that describes to what degree it can stretch without rupturing.
Pig iron is the crude, high-carbon iron from a smelting/blast furnace. It’s obtained in rounded, oblong bricks – slightly resembling a pig.
Finding Your Flow PART B: The Blacksmith
We continue our Finding Your Flow series with a video that takes you into the meditative rhythm of The Blacksmith. The video is a visual exploration of MFS Blacksmithing Instructor Wade Buck crafting one of the most important tools in their arsenal of tools…tongs.
There is a strong connection between optimism, self-esteem, happiness and health. It is easy for some to achieve and difficult for others. Yet the two things that we can all do right now is to make the choice to express ourselves in a positive way and do our best to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. These simple but effective mind-shifts will enable many more moments of calm and clarity from the mind's typical dependence on emotional chaos.
As we settle into this new and unprecedented sequestering, we find the need to hold on to something real, to something solid. In the world of the artisan, the goal is to find one's flow. In this state of being, the flow enables a focused path that encompasses the optimism of creation, assembly, and “ah-ha” moments. Negative thoughts disappear – there is simply no room for them during creative activity. The gentle and repetitive motion involved in a beautifully manual task like sawing, drilling or sewing can help regulate breathing, heart rate, manage strong emotions and calm a nervous system.
Although, the artisans that teach at the Michigan Folk School are currently in self-quarantine, not one of us has stopped thinking about you, our community. While right now we cannot physically sit down next you and guide you in a craft that could help you enter your own state of flow, we can lead by example. Over the next few weeks we will publish a series of videos about our artisan instructors. These videos are not meant to serve as as a “how-to”, they are meant to bring you into the world of the craftsperson and to enable you to see their state of flow. Allow yourself a few minutes to get fully lost in the video, lost in the music, lost in the craft. Watch them over and over and over again and you'll find something new each time. Absorb the rich and dark textures of the video and open yourself to its seductive mediation.
We begin with a video from the point of view of the artisan. The video is fast, energetic and fun. It looks and feels different than the other videos, as this one celebrates irrelevancy of time. From outside the artisan, it feels as if time has slowed down as the artisan measures, cuts, pounds, punches, carves, or chops. But from the perspective of the artisan, time seems to disappear. Hours feel like minutes. The grumbling-tummy that was once screaming “FEED ME” is now more of a whisper heard through a tin-can telephone. In this video, we compressed a four-hour leather crafting experience, starting with patterning, leather selection, cutting, riveting, and hardware addition, and ending the experience by coming back into waking time with a beautifully completed project.
In closing, let’s all remember that we can do two things right now that can help everyone, including ourselves. We can make the choice to express ourself in a positive way and we can do our best to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
Let this be the start of our virtual journey together!
With reverence for all,
The Artisans of
The Michigan Folk School