Folk art is about taking something ordinary and making it extraordinary. The common thread of folk art is that ordinary people making something out of nothing.
Bird of Paradise Quilt Top - Artist unidentified. Vicinity of Albany, New York, 1858 - 1863. Cotton, wool, silk, and ink with silk embrodiery, 84 1/2 x 69 5/8 inches. American Folk Art Museum, gift of trustees, 1979.7.1
Another form of folk art is tramp art. Tramp art is an art movement found throughout the world where small pieces of wood, primarily from discarded cigar boxes and shipping crates, are whittled into layers of geometric patterns having the outside edges of each layer notch carved. The artists used simple tools such as a pocketknife to carve the recycled wood. It was popular in the years between the 1870s to the 1940s after which the art form started to decline. It was made in prodigious numbers. The most common forms were the box and the frame. Although there were no rules or patterns to lend commonality in the artists’ work there were objects made in every conceivable shape and size including full sized furniture and objects of whimsy.
The stories behind pieces of tramp art combine practicality with imagination.
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Typically, people think of folk art as it relates to paintings.
The Peaceable Kingdom, about 1833
Oil on canvas
Trained as a sign, coach, and ornamental painter, Hicks painted over a hundred versions of his now-famous Peaceable Kingdom between 1820 and his death. His artistic endeavors provided modest support for his activities as a Quaker preacher in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The theme of this painting, drawn from chapter 11 of Isaiah, was undoubtedly attractive to Hicks and fellow Quakers not only for its appealing imagery but also for its message of peace: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."
From fabric, to wood, to canvas and now weavings. Many people associate basket making with Native American culture. Every household needed someone who could make a basket. They were handy and pratical. Styles and skills undoubtedly varied and you may not want a basket from Aunt Lil as much as one from Cousin Martha, but these skills were passed down just the same. The finest of these bring quite a price at auction.
In 1856, the state of Massachusetts commissioned lightships staffed with approximately 10 men to provide light to passing ships in the heavily trafficked waters around the dangerous shoals to the south of Nantucket. The lightships, acting as floating lighthouses, were positioned to warn of the dangers and to prevent disastrous shipwrecks. With little to do during the day, the crew turned to weaving rattan baskets to pass the time on board. The wooden bases of the baskets were prepared on shore while the weaving and assembly took place on the lightship. The crew found that the baskets had many utilitarian uses around the house and were becoming popular with visitors. While no longer made on lightships, they are still called Nantucket lightship baskets.
Learn about Nantucket Lightship Baskets here: