Andrew Goodheart Brown says he was initially attracted to broom making when he realized he could create something beautiful and, at the same time, “make a little bit of income so we could stay in organic coffee and dark chocolate.”
But he’s not exactly a homebody — at least, he didn’t use to be. Brown has traveled the world many times over, from Bangladesh to the Arctic, conducting wildlife surveys and volunteering his services as a permaculture and organic-orchard consultant. His accomplishments have four times earned him the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
In 1991, while he was preparing to lead a kayak trip into the Okefenokee Swamp, somebody suggested there was a woman he might like to meet. He called her right away and soon found himself on her front porch. “When she opened the door,” says Brown, “she was backlit, and I thought, ‘I didn’t know they made them like this!’” He and clay artist Chris Chiwa Clark have been together ever since.
It was at Chiwa’s home that Brown first picked up a handmade broom. “I loved how it felt in my hands and how it swept. I knew right away I wanted to learn how to do this.” After taking a class in broom making in 2004 from Marlow Gates (son of renowned broom maker Ralph Gates), “I just hit the ground running,” he said. The next year, he joined the prestigious Southern Highland Craft Guild.
Of necessity, his is somewhat a seasonal craft. “I have a hillbilly studio,” quips Brown. “It’s our front porch. That’s why it’s typically in the summer that I make brooms.” Indeed. Waiting for him to answer the door, a visitor is greeted by stacks of branches that are, in turn, waiting for warmer weather when they’ll be transformed into brooms.
“I look for branches that feel good when I hold them,” says Brown. My favorite is sassafras. Whenever I can, I leave the bark on these handles and just do a little sanding to make them nice and smooth.”
Choosing broomcorn, a long-fibered plant he buys in big bales, Brown begins the repetitive task of transforming it into brooms using a classic Shaker weave, incorporating his signature red cord in the process. He makes three basic styles of brooms: the full sweeper (long-handled and broad), an Appalachian design called a cobweb sweeper (long and narrow), and a whisk (short-handled).
He says the best way to care for his brooms is to keep them from getting wet and to hang them up when they’re not in use. “You can get 10-12 years of heavy use out of my brooms,” says Brown. “When they wear out, bring them back and I’ll put a new head on them.”
Deep function is the obvious goal. But when they’re hanging idle? Then, Brown says, “they’re art.”
“Clay and Straw: Chiwa & Goodheart’s 25th Annual Holiday Open House and Sale” runs for two weekends: Dec. 8-9, Dec. 15-16 (Saturdays 10am-6pm; Sundays 1-6pm). Location is 22 Overbrook Place in East Asheville. Call 828-298-0426 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.