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Sweeping Up

Ashland, Ky., broommaker Lewis
returns with a swish

He earned Best Presentation at last year’s Chautauqua

(Sept. 20, 2019) – After finding antique broommaking equipment in an old barn, Shannon Lewis of Ashland, Ky., knew he had to carry on an age-old tradition. He jumped right in to revive an ancient art form, the result of which is functional yet beautiful, and sometimes carries a special meaning all its own.
“I was cleaning out one of the barns on my family farm and came across my grandfather’s broommaking equipment he had used and stored away,” said Lewis, 58. His grandfather, Shannon Warnock, had purchased the circa 1880s-1900s equipment years ago. Warnock worked as a horse trainer and had planned to use the equipment in the winter time to make additional money. Over time it had been forgotten, and other things piled on top of it in the barn until it was out of sight.

Photo provided

Shannon Lewis displays some of the brooms he makes.

Upon discovering it, Lewis thought that it would “be great to learn how to use it.” Surprised it was still in the barn, he decided he would put it to good use and learn how to make traditional brooms.
“I traveled around to all of the broom makers I could find,” he said. “They were always willing to share and teach me what they knew. I asked lots of questions and practiced.”       
When Lewis participates in craft shows, he takes his broom vise with him to demonstrate how to sew brooms together. He will be one of about 250 fine artists and craftspeople from all over the country featured at the 49th Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art.
What started as a hobby has turned into a lucrative business for Lewis over the last 12 years. “When I began, I was teaching and coaching and didn’t have time to do much,” he said.
Lewis quit coaching and found he had weekends, summers and evenings free. He started with small local shows, and pretty soon “it had grown considerably larger than I envisioned,” he said. Lewis retired from teaching three years ago and has been crafting brooms full time.
His wife, Cindy, can often be found by his side at shows, handling displays and sales. “It allows me to demo and talk to customers,” he said.
Cindy said her husband makes a “unique, whimsical product. His brooms are functional and fun.”
Lewis, who can be found in Booth No. 604, uses Appalachian and Shaker style techniques to create his booms. They are formed with natural broomcorn combined with recycled, repurposed and newly created handles from various items such as musical instruments, sports equipment and vintage tools.
Lewis can make brooms that “can be personalized to what an individual likes,” said Cindy. His inventory “covers a variety of different styles of products” from which customers can choose.
He does a lot of custom work, such as a wedding broom he made for a customer, she said. “He can take a recycled household tool and turn it into art you can use and enjoy.”
In addition to customers choosing their own handles, they can choose dyed broomcorn in several colors: natural, black, blue, green, purple, red, orange yellow, brown and gray. “We put a lot of color into the brooms also,” he said.

Photo by Don Ward

Shannon Lewis accepts his Best Presentation award from tourism director Tawana Thomas at last year’s Chautauqua.

“We get custom orders at every show.” Using a certain item to create the handle and being able to pick certain colors “makes the brooms personal. They are something people have a connection to. We started with traditional brooms but it has evolved into a one-of-a-kind broom now.”
He said he has a lot of repeat customers. “They appreciate what we do.”
The couple has attended the Madison Chautauqua for the last six years, and Lewis said he is “always changing what I have in my booth.” His prices can range from $20 for a standard broom and up to $150 for a very involved broom with special handles.
Like many other new and returning artists, Lewis said he likes attending the Madison Chautauqua because the “area is just gorgeous. There’s a great view of restored homes along the river. And it’s always a treat to see people we’ve met each year along the way. It’s a well organized show with a great selection of artists and has always been successful for us.”
Last year he won in the Best Presentation category. “It’s great to get recognized, but I don’t do it to win.” Lewis said he is interested in connecting with customers and creating for them a product that will provide a lifetime of memories.
He’ll be attending about 11 shows this year and does as many larger shows as he can produce work for. Recent and upcoming shows he participated in include the Bob Evans Farm Fest in Ohio and the St. James Court Art Fair in Louisville. He also sells his work through a local mercantile business in his hometown.
In general, his brooms “are a form of functional art. I encourage people to sue them.” In creating his truly distinct product, “I try to find something everybody is interested in.”
He’ll be attending about 11 shows this year and does as many larger shows as he can produce work for. Recent and upcoming shows he participated in include the Bob Evans Farm Fest in Ohio and the St. James Court Art Fair in Louisville. He also sells his work through a local mercantile business in his hometown.

In general, his brooms “are a form of functional art. I encourage people to sue them.” In creating his truly distinct product, “I try to find something everybody is interested in.”

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