Marlow Gates

Mary and I decided we needed an adventure. It was fall, but not yet “leaf season”. The weather was hot and clear, but the quality of the air and the changes in the flowers and trees told me that summer was ending.

We headed out to find Marlow Gates and his broom-making enterprise, Friendswood Brooms, in the Sandy Mush Community of North Carolina. Sandy Mush is a loose group of nooks and crannies northwest of Asheville. We passed this way before in search of Marlow but always missed him. We made our way out of Leicester and tried to remember which Turkey Branch Road took us to Marlow’s house. I had called ahead and Marlow agreed to meet us around 3:00 in the afternoon.

We got there on time but were reminded that when we travel in these parts, the folks are on “mountain time”, which is not necessarily “real time”. We visited with Marlow’s apprentice and got to know each one of Marlow’s dogs very well, but Marlow was not to be found. I did get in touch and we agreed to meet the next morning. Mary and I jumped over one ridge of mountains and found the delightful Wildberry Lodge for a perfect night’s stay in the North Carolina Mountains.

I met Marlow the next morning, and I spent a delightful time learning about broom making as an art form, as well as how his father got started making brooms in the 70’s and the legacy his dad left him. The brooms are all about form and function. Marlow won’t sell you a good-looking “decorator” broom if it really doesn’t feel right and “sweep good”. Each broom is handmade using techniques that Marlow’s father developed. Marlow includes an information card with each broom that includes not only the various straws used in the sweeps, but also what type of wood is on the handle and the exact spot where he found it.

Marlow says it best in his Artist’s Statement. “We are the first to explore brooms as an art form. Brooms as art were stifled in their infancy by the invention of the broom machine in the 1850’s. At that point, the plain wire-wrapped, dowel-handled broom became the standard. Until recently, there have been no professional broom makers, only machine operators. Using natural wood handles and broomcorn, we make each broom by hand with techniques that date to the 1790’s. Freed from the constraints of the machine, we are investigating shape, size, color, texture and the other fundamentals basic to any art form. Each broom is a unique, functional piece of sculpture, incorporating traditional Appalachian strength and longevity.

Enjoy some pictures from our trips to visit Marlow and come shop for his work at Pixel Point.~

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