Friday, September 20, 2013

Folk Art - Because It Makes You Smile

Recently I wrote a post with the rationale for collecting folk art. I forgot perhaps the most important reason of all. Folk art makes you smile!

Not all folk art is humorous but the majority of folk artists like to inject some humour into their work. Even folk artists who have led troubled and difficult lives frequently employ humour. Doing so I would think brings them into another state of mind where they can forget their troubles for awhile and take some solace from their creations.  Here's an example.

This is an embroidered magazine rack meant to hang on the wall. The rectangular section on the front of the piece folds out slightly and creates an opening behind it that can be used for the storage of newspapers or other printed material. The back has a piece of cardboard or other hard material under the cloth which gives it rigidity and the overall strength to support the weight of heavy magazines in the front pocket.  Judging from the fabric, I would say it dates to the 1960's and possibly back into the 1950's.  It is the images on the front of the piece that I want to discuss.

There are 14 images depicted on the embroidered front section.  The theme is the "forest' and the animals and vegetation found therein. Moose, deer, rabbits, squirrel even a skunk are depicted. The sun, moon and four trees are also included. On the lower right, a hunter, a rifle hoisted on his shoulder, marches aggressively into the scene.  Despite being limited to the squarish holes of the foundation material, the maker of this piece is highly successful in depicting the animals and forms of vegetation. Look at the rabbit on the left "step" or the squirrel to the further left. They make me smile! It's quite possible that the maker of the this item, worked with a pattern outline. But I've never seen this image before. And even if it was produced with a pattern, it still has inherent folk art qualities: colour, form, busyness, style and humour.

In keeping with the "forest" theme, consider the next painting of an owl by a J. Osborne created in 1987 and found in the Ottawa Valley.  Despite the fact that the artist shows considerable artistic skill in depicting this rather hungry and mean looking fellow (I pity the mouse he has his eye on!) the painting still has a folky quality to it.  The artist seems to have struggled somewhat with achieving the correct anatomical structure of the owl, yet that didn't stop him from executing on his concept and achieving a rather dramatic result.

While folk artists may know they lack certain artistic skills, they frequently push ahead with their work and complete it successfully.  This is true of some of North America's greatest folk artists.  However, I have seen literally hundreds of landscape paintings by folk artists who could have included humans or animals in their work but didn't.  Unfortunately, I suspect these artists lacked the confidence to paint the human form.  If they'd only tried! Think of the great folk paintings we would have had to enjoy!

Some folk artists can get down right bawdy.  The following example is a wood carving by the late Charlie Tanner in which a naked man and woman are, shall we say, vertically engaged in the "act".  When I acquired the carving, which was included in a collection of folk art I bought many years ago, the carving was broken and needed repair in an, ahem, rather strategic area! Fortunately, a friend of mine was able to put things back together, so to speak, and touch up the area of repair with matching paint. We were both giggling like a couple of fools when the photo was taken of him handing the carving rather gingerly to me! Apologies for the dismal photograph but it's all I had.

So, there you have it. Folk art is fun and humorous. It often makes me smile and I can guarantee it will do the same for you. I'll close this post with a photo of the lumberjack carving by the late Art Dixon of Pembroke, ON.  Does it make you smile? I hope so.

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