Family tradition leads to sweeping artistic career for this Alabama Maker

Family tradition leads to sweeping artistic career for this Alabama Maker
George Jones Jr. is the fourth-generation broom maker in his family. (Mark Sandlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

George’s Broom Closet (Florence)

The Maker: George Jones Jr.

Times were tough, and George M. Jones had 50 families depending on him. As the manager of a large tenant farm near Florence, Jones oversaw 1,200 acres of corn, cotton and other crops. Then the Great Depression hit.

“The government removed most of the price supports for crops, and the farm came to a standstill,” George Jones Jr. explains. “So my great-grandfather got the idea to grow broom corn and popcorn to help generate income. He taught the other farmers how to make brooms and sold them for around 35 cents each. That may not sound like much today, but if they sold 100 brooms, that was a lot of money back then.”

George M.’s sweeping idea paid off, and soon the farm was back in business, making brooms for housewives and popcorn for movie theaters. While the farm no longer grows popcorn, George Jones Jr. continues to grow broom corn, and make brooms using much of the same equipment his great-grandfather worked with nearly 90 years ago.

George’s Broom Closet is an Alabama Maker that will sweep you off your feet from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

While Jones grew up around the broom business, he really didn’t get too involved until 1986. “We had a really good crop of broom corn that year and I asked my grandfather to show me how to make a broom,” he says. “At first I was doing it just for fun. Then I went to Kentuck.”

When Jones told the folks at the Kentuck Art Center and Museum in Northport about his handmade items, he discovered his functional products were also works of art. “They told me to bring some the next time I came, and I had brooms sitting around everywhere back home,” he says.

So Jones packed a bunch of brooms and headed back for the annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts. “I set up a display, sat down, and started making brooms,” he says. “Just about anytime somebody came around they bought one, and I started thinking, ‘I could almost make a living doing this.’”

Since then, the master craftsman has sold thousands of brooms, ranging in size from tiny whisk ones to larger, clean-a-kitchen in a sweep sizes. “I make about 20 different styles,” he says. “I usually use standard broom handles, but I also custom make them from woods like sassafras, dogwood and oak that I find in the woods around the farm – just about anything that I think would look good on a broom.”

Jones sells his crafts on his website, at regional art shows, and in the gift shops of the Kentuck Art Center and the American Folk Art Museum in New York. “I’m making some brooms to send to New York right now,” he says. “They sell out quickly up there.

“I could probably just sell on my website and in the shops, but I love doing shows because I love interacting with people. I like to making a broom right in front of them while telling the story of my family – and the farm that started the whole thing.”

The Product: Handmade brooms in 20 styles and sizes.

Take Home: A wire-wound kitchen broom, $27.

George’s Broom Closet,  (Jones’s brooms are also available at the Kentuck Art Center, 503 Main Ave., Northport, AL, and the American Folk Art Museum, 2 Lincoln Square, New York, NY.)

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