Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Timeless Appeal of Folk Art

Many years ago when I first began picking and collecting, my main interest was country furniture. By that I mean furniture that was made by hand, most often in rural areas and on farms in my area of Eastern Ontario, Canada.  The other items found in early Canadian homes were also of interest to me and that included artistic items like paintings, carvings and small accessories decorated with artistic designs. Salt glazed stoneware with cobalt blue designs on them are a good example.

Of course, all of these types of antiques were difficult to find. And, you had to have a fairly good understanding of the field in order to appreciate the finer points of a particular item.  As I traveled around looking for antiques, I also came across individuals who were creating contemporary works of art like paintings, wood carvings, hooked that were often beautifully executed and yet these people were untrained in art. In fact, many of them had never had an art lesson in their life.  As I came to learn, they were in that category known as "folk artists". 

 Most pickers and collectors that I knew at the time weren't all that interested in contemporary folk art. They were searching for traditional folk art, items made by individuals a hundred years ago or more.  Perhaps because I was new to the field of picking and antiquing, I felt differently.  Here was a field that was relatively new, at least to me.  Most pickers, dealers and collectors shunned contemporary folk art. I began to embrace it. 

One didn't have to have years of experience and knowledge in order to appreciate a piece of contemporary folk art. Plus, it was somewhat easier to find than the antiques and traditional folk art.  It was because of these factors that I began searching for folk art in earnest. I didn't know it at the time but that decision would, in the years ahead, lead me to some of the most exciting finds in my picking and collecting career. Now, some thirty years later, I am still finding and enjoying folk art. The photographs of the items included with this blog were all discovered within the last twelve months.

Few experiences in collecting and picking are as exciting as finding an undiscovered folk artist. In my upcoming book Folk Art in the Attic, I describe one situation where I happened to come across a man in a small Eastern Ontario town whose entire house was filled with impressive folk paintings that he had created.  He had been painting for many years and had never sold a single painting!  It was as if these creations were his companions. He lived with them everyday.  Several of them were "memory paintings", works of art that depicted scenes from his childhood.

This is quite a common theme with folk artists and memory paintings are among my most favourite finds.  When I asked him about selling a painting he was taken aback.  He was actually surprised that someone wanted to buy one.  Although he thought about it seriously, in the end he said he just couldn't part with a painting. And, he never did.  Some years later, I discovered that he had passed away and his family wasn't interested in the paintings. They were all sold at the yard sale or given away to anyone who wanted them. 

It's ironic that some folk artists don't even consider themselves artists. They think "artist" is a status that is above them or that they are undeserving of the title.  Nothing could be further from the truth. I have met folk artists whose works were absolutely stunning.  Yet the individuals who created them remained modest and humble about their work.  They view their artistic creations simply as another activity in their life.

Today, contemporary folk art has become a popular category of collecting and the vast majority of dealers carry items in their stock.  Looking back on it now, I am so glad to have discovered, pursued and collected contemporary folk art. If you are beginning to collect then consider adding folk art to your search. I can guarantee that it will bring you much joy and pleasure.

If you would like your name added to the pre-order list for Folk Art in the Attic email me and I will put your name on the list. There is no obligation in doing so. I can be reached via email at 

The first image above is a small carved and painted wood panel by "Johnson", 1994.  The second image is a small hooked rug from Quebec c. 1950, artist unknown. The third image is a wooden horse sculpture from Eastern Ontario c. 1960, artist unknown.

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