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Keeping Tradition Alive: Jack Martin featured in book and exhibit

Jack Martin carving a handle for one of his completely handmade brooms. This photo, taken by Dean Dixon, is one of many photos of Martin featured in Traditions: Tennessee Lives and Legacies. Submitted Photo

Jack Martin and Hockaday Handmade Brooms have been McNairy County institutions ever since Martin quit his corporate job and moved back to the county to continue his family’s tradition of broom making. Now, Martin finds himself preserving not only his family heritage but a Tennessee tradition as well. 

Hockaday Handmade Brooms has been featured in numerous media broadcasts including the popular Tennessee Crossroads, on Nashville Public Television, and The Good Life, on Home and Garden TV, as well as in dozens of print publications, periodicals and online media including Tennessee 24/7, American Profile and Tennessee Magazine. Martin was also selected as one of 12 American folk artists to demonstrate at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. 

By his count, Jack has demonstrated traditional broom making skills for more than 750,000 school children over the last 25 years. The Broomcorn Festival here in McNairy County celebrated its 15th year last October.

Now, there is one more honor to add to Hockaday Handmade Brooms’ extensive list of accomplishments. Martin was recently selected as one of 25 folk preservationists in the state to be featured in a Tennessee Arts Commission book and companion exhibit Tradition: Tennessee Lives and Legacies.

The book is a series of expressive essays written by Dr. Robert Cogswell, director of the TAC Folklife Program with accompanying photographs taken by Nashville photographer Dean Dixon.

“The 25 subjects in Tradition exemplify much of what I wish were better known and appreciated about Tennessee folk culture,” said Dr. Cogswell in the book’s introduction. “Together, they make the point that folklife is still vibrant, enriching communities and cultural life in many ways throughout the state. Lots of Tennesseans today are not fully aware of that or may not place any particular value in it.”

The exhibit, which is currently on a three-year tour of the state, includes 50 framed photo enlargements from the book, along with accompanying title stand, introductory panel, and gallery texts. 

The exhibit was last shown at the West Tennessee Regional Arts Center in Humboldt. A reception for the last day of the WTRAC exhibit, which both Martin and Dr. Cogswell attended, was held July 31. “I thought it was great,” said Martin. “All the people were very receptive of the artists.”

Bill Hickerson, Curator and Director of WTRAC, felt the event was a success as well. “We’ve had a gratifying response from the community to the exhibition,” said Hickerson. “Visitors would come back a second and third time, bringing family and friends they knew would appreciate the beauty of the photographs and the traditional skills and talents they represent.

“For me, a highlight of the event was that Jack Martin and Billy Tripp (an artist from Brownsville also featured in the book) were here,” said Hickerson. “Having their lives and unique talents showcased is a fitting tribute to the unique culture of West Tennessee. It was nice to see that both artists had friends here to honor and support them.”

Martin feels honored to be included in the project. “I feel very blessed because all the artists in the book are so much better than I am,” said Martin. “It’s just such a great honor to be included with all these great artists from across Tennessee.”

To Dr. Cogswell, Jack Martin’s place in folk art and history is secure. “I think Jack has an interesting story about a younger generation embracing their heritage. A lot of people regard folk arts as dying things. People like Jack demonstrate that, on an individual basis, these things are carried on.

“People need to know what’s happening where they live and be proud of it,” said Dr. Cogswell.

If you missed the exhibit in Humboldt, there will be more opportunities to see it. It will be stopping next at the Germantown Performing Arts Center from Sept. 11-Oct. 22, then in Jackson, Tenn. at the Ned R. McWherter West Tennessee Cultural Arts Center from Nov. 13-Dec. 30. 

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