Agreeing to meet outside Foster’s in Durham on a typical late afternoon in late February would be slightly crazy. As it was, last Thursday was anything but typical, from the 80 degree heat to my entourage of 5 kids (my 4 plus a tagalong baby nephew) to the youthful woman with a long brown braid reading outside the Market. Wearing a light mauve blouse, multicolored hand-dyed scarf, and embellished jeans, Tracey Broome certainly embodied the image of a successful artist and intellectual, and, as I spoke with her, I found her to be anything but typical.
Once she recovered from the surprise that I was there to interview her, and wasn’t just another crazed mom of many descending upon the Market with ravenous locusts, her face lit up with recognition and we began to talk as if we’d known each other for years rather than seconds. Within minutes, she was holding my 9-month-old nephew, her eyes tracking my boys with a nostalgic gleam as they slurped all-natural root beers and squabbled on and under and at the picnic tables. She spoke fondly of her days teaching young children at the Arts Center in Carrboro, and of her own daughter, Wesley, now grown and attending film school in NC. She told me the story of her jeans and her beautiful scarf, both purchased from another artist after selling her own work for the first time.
Before moving to Chapel Hill, Broome was a set designer in Charlotte. She worked in the theater at night and took pottery classes during the day. Once she moved with her daughter and her husband, Gerry, she became a studio assistant at the Arts Center in Carrboro in exchange for time in the studio. Eventually, she started teaching children’s classes, expanding to include homeschooling classes to fill more of the daytime hours in the studio.
As she tells me this, she’s lightly bouncing my nephew and smiling as my youngest tries to convince me to try the strange concoction he’s managed to put in his nearly empty root beer bottle (where do kids find this stuff?).
“I loved teaching kids, but I had to stop because they brought in so many germs and I kept getting sick. I had three respiratory infections in a row. I hated it, but I needed to be well.”
So, Broome moved on. It was a fortuitous change as she built her backyard studio, and started creating her clay houses in earnest (They’re not bird houses, by the way. In case, like me, you’re prone to misspeaking and risk insulting your subject). She submitted two of her houses to a local art show, sold them both, and submitted two more to another show. Both of those sold, and now, she’s a rising local star. One well off couple in Chapel Hill is so certain that she’s going all the way to the top that they’ve started collecting her pieces now, while she’s accessible.
“What made you submit those first pieces?” I ask, taking my restless nephew while my 3.5 year old climbs up the back of the iron chair and over the top of my head.
Her eyes widen as she considers the question. “Wow, good question. I don’t know.” She pauses for a long while, searching back to when she was less confident and more surprised by the idea of being a real artist. “I guess…It must have been a do or die moment. If I was going to be a real artist, and really do this, I had to go all the way.”
Broome is poised to go all the way. Her voice still carries a note of surprise that people are interested in her work, which is still evolving, becoming something personal and more family oriented as she incorporates antiques and personal belongings into custom pieces. This new phase started with the gift of a small porcelain doll from a friend. Broome worked it into a piece, and gave it back to the owner.
“This was a treasure that had been stored away in a drawer, and now it’s part of something bigger and she has it out on display and loves to look at it. I love that part of it. Turning something special into something new. Now people give me doorknobs and figurines and pictures.”
Broome’s work is special and new, and she’s a bit protective of it. “I’m starting to see elements of my work in others’ work, and I don’t like it. You have to find your own voice. I’ve found mine.”
As we wrap up the interview over the plaintive whining of my brood, she speaks warmly of her impending weekend trip to the beach with artistic friends (not surprising) and excitedly of her newfound vice, Skyrim (quite surprising). My 11 and 8 year olds are deeply impressed that this grown woman is encouraging them to try it out when they get a chance, and look at her with awe as she describes hunting dragons and having great adventures.
Yes, Tracey Broome is anything but typical, and she’s in the midst of a grand adventure. Check out her work before the rest of the world figures this out, too.