GLOUSTER — Tucked away within a pocket of woods near Glouster, in Appalachia’s Southeastern Ohio region, lies a small, comfortable, handcrafted cabin on land owned by Curt Cable and his wife Rhonda. Inside are a couple small, hundred-year old machines that help Curt make high quality Appalachian brooms that add a decorative touch to a wall within a home — or for the more practical — sweep out dirt and dust.
The Cables are native Ohio Appalachians and have family in West Virginia and Kentucky. They landed in an area of Ohio that best suited their needs and lifestyle as they etched out a life together — she as an educator in the Logan-Hocking School District and he a self-made man who uses his hands to work the land making tangible things that city-goers and Appalachians find interesting.
He is well-known for his broom making capabilities, in both the Appalachian and Shaker-broom varieties, and it’s a trade that has supported his family.
Curt can recall when his parents grew their own broom corn (sorghum), and traded it for handmade brooms, but it wasn’t until 2004 when he thought about making extra money that he focused on the trade full-time. After learning from a fellow broom maker in London, Ohio, Curt mastered his own style and registered for his first festival when their son was just a few months old.
The festival was Lilyfest in Rockbridge, which is celebrating its 28th year this July 12-14, and he soon realized there was a genuine interest in high-quality, handcrafted Appalachian brooms. While practical and functional, people bought them to add a touch of decorative country flair to their homes.
“Lilyfest gave me the encouragement to branch out and try other festivals,” Curt explained.
“We’re at a few festivals each summer now,” he added, noting that he also is a pastor of two local churches near their home.
Still, Lilyfest is the only festival he’s attended consecutively for 15 years. The popular art and garden festival in the Hocking Hills attracts more than 5,000 visitors each year.
Learning an Appalachian trade has been passed down to Curt and Rhonda’s son, who at the age of 15, travels with his parents to showcase his skill in the art of blacksmithing.
Rhonda has even written a short story about broom making, and the book is set for release by Monday Creek Publishing at Lilyfest at 1 p.m., July 13. It features Amos, an 80-year-old man who sets out to craft an Appalachian broom for his wife of 60 years. Though it’s only one of many brooms that Amos has crafted during their lifetime, it shows a side of the trade that is uniquely Appalachian.
Amos, whose character is illustrated by Jackie Duffy, a former LHSD art teacher, was created to be an elderly version of Curt.
“I’ve always considered myself an old soul,” said Curt. “It feels right, and that's the way I would like to be portrayed.”
The book follows Amos as he wakes up in the early morning to watch the sunrise. He enjoys coffee and breakfast before heading off into the woods to choose a good branch for the broom handle.
He heads to the barn where he chooses the perfect stalks of broom corn from the barn, soaks them in water, and fastens them securely to the handle. The broom is tested when it’s presented to his wife, known simply and affectionately as “Ma.”
“A Broom for Ma” was created for children and adults alike, as a way to educate people about the art of broom making, said Rhonda, author of the book.
The story will probably answer questions about broom making that visitors have at Lilyfest and other festivals, she said.
“Yes, you can actually sweep with them,” she laughed.
Lilyfest is a three-day event in the Hocking Hills that combines gardening education with art and music on three acres of perfectly manicured land that contains thousands of lilies and plants.
What started as a backyard pottery sale 28 years ago attracts more than 5,000 visitors who are eager to view the gardens, hike through the woods, talk to Ohio Certified Naturalists and Master Gardeners from OSU Extension, and see the work of 70 artists showcasing Appalachian art from the Hocking Hills region, including clay sculptures, blown glass, jewelry, wood carvings, photography and so much more.
“We try to do something new each year with the environment and outdoor education,” said Bobbi Bishop, who created the event with her late husband Bruce. “It’s kind of like an outdoor learning lab for everyone.”
Visit www.lilyfest.com for the latest information on artists and hours of operation. The gardens are located at 13200 Little Cola Road, Rockbridge, Ohio, 43149.