Folklife Heritage Recipient, 2015 Governor’s Arts Awards
Artisan, educator and devoted tradition bearer, Jack Martin of Selmer, Tennessee is a fourth generation broom maker continuing the craft he learned from his grandfather. Owner of Hockaday Handmade Brooms, Martin has given his life, and his livelihood, to this family heritage. Still operating his great-grandfather’s nearly 100-year-old equipment, Martin creates every broom by hand, selecting materials, winding, sewing and carefully finishing each, one at a time. His brooms are found in prestigious museum and archival collections, including the Smithsonian.
Martin and Hockaday Handmade Brooms have been featured on PBS, DIY Network and HGTV. Among other recognitions, Martin has been presented with the McNairy County Ambassador Award and was given the honor of representing American folk culture through displays and demonstrations at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
As a demonstrator, Martin’s “Living History” program has reached an estimated one million elementary school children in West Tennessee over the past 25 years. He has also expanded his business to include a larger workshop and a working-museum that is open year-round to visitors. In 1996, Martin started the Broomcorn Festival, a successful annual event held at Selmer’s largest municipal park in partnership with McNairy County’s tourism, economic and cultural development agencies.
Hockaday Handmade Brooms is one of today’s oldest family owned businesses in Southwest Tennessee, dating its origin to 1916. Farmer Will Hockaday, Martin’s maternal great-grandfather, harvested his own broomcorn and fashioned production equipment in his one-man saw mill and blacksmith shop. Will’s son Jack Hockaday inherited the craft, taught it to his daughter Mildred and continued to make brooms into the 1970s. Martin was Mildred Hockaday’s son, and grew up on the family farm immersed in the customs of rural life. Due to economic necessity, Martin left home in search of work in the late 1980s and worked as an engineer for GE, Rockwell International and Texas Instruments. He eventually left the corporate world to return to the family farm in Selmer and restart the family broom business.
With guidance from his grandfather, Martin learned to make brooms in the manner passed through his family. After replenishing and since preserving the lost broomcorn stock in late 1980s, he reinvigorated Hockaday Handmade Brooms and began to sell his products at regional craft fairs and small retailers around the southeast. Despite advancements in technology, Martin has insisted on using his family’s time-tested handmade techniques. His meticulous method and sensitivity to detail transforms his craft items from ordinary, functional objects into works of art.
Martin and his wife Dee, also known as Virginia, have also invented a drumstick made from broom-corn that is sold though the Pro-Mark company. The sticks have gained popularity among several well-known musicians including Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who discussed them in a 2004 cover story for Rhythm Magazine. Other award-winning musical acts, including the Black Keys, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy and Clint Black, have also made use of the one-of-a-kind specialty drumsticks.
As he now hands down the family business to his own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Martin secures the broom-making tradition for other generations. He has not only succeeded in reviving Hockaday Handmade Brooms, but in creating a cultural treasure that can be valued for decades to come.