Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Folk Art Discovery

Hello again! At the end of a recent blog post, Joan and I were wandering the lanes of the LaChute Flea Market in Quebec on a beautiful autumn morning.
As always, I was keeping a sharp outlook for folk art both traditional and contemporary.  Joan, is my second pair of eyes, and after 30 years knows as much as I do about folk art and can recognize quality from across the room or, in this case, from across the lane.  If anything, Joan has a better sense of design than I do and has frequently made me examine a piece more than once to prove her point. She's most often right!
Searching for folk art at a flea market is always challenging.  It is so because of the sheer volume of material that one has to examine. On this particular day, I would estimate that there were well over 150 dealers on hand. Even if one eliminated the vendors with new merchandise, that still left over 100 vendor booths to examine.  Some of the larger vendors at LaChute routinely fill a dozen tables with items and also display objects for sale on the grass under the tables.  It's challenging but it's also fun and a superb test of your powers of observation, your experience and knowledge.  I should mention it is also strictly "buyer beware".
The vendors, as typical of all flea markets, are there to sell and they are good sales people!  They'll always stress the positive aspects of a piece and are enthusiastic in their efforts to sell, sell, sell!  I have been to the central market in Instanbul, a huge, sprawling conglomeration of vendors along dozens of streets that have been effectively roofed over to make it an indoor market.  The vendors in Istanbul take persuasive selling to a whole new level. The vendors at LaChute are not far behind them!
We had been at LaChute for about 45 minutes to an hour and had just started walking up one side of a new lane. I remember muttering to Joan as we looked at yet another booth filled with uninteresting items: "I'm starting to get that sinking feeling that I'm not going to find anything here today."  Joan, ever the optimist replied. "Hey, don't give up yet, there's a lot more to check out and you may find something.  Keep looking."
We continued moving up the aisle. One dealer had an interesting and large clock shelf with an ochre, possibly original paint on it and a tramp art container.  The shelf, however, was made of oak which put me off and he quoted a price of $150 for the tramp art piece which didn't motivate me. I kept moving along.
At the next booth the dealer had a variety of small items displayed on two eight foot tables positioned at the edge of the grass in front of his truck.  I walked slowly in front of the tables when suddenly three paintings lying on the table caught my eye. I stopped and looked down at them. The crowd of other shoppers ebbed and flowed around me.   Pan pipe flute music from a band of South American musicians set up in an adjacent booth mixed in with the sounds coming from various radios and stereos nearby.  The dealer standing behind the table edged over in my direction. I stared at the work on the table in front of me then picked it up for closer examination.
When I look at a piece of folk art, I am always ready to reject it quickly.  The vast majority of pieces fail various aspects of my "litmus" test for folk art within seconds.  Each work has to immediately impress you with it's folk art qualities. It has to be well executed. The composition should be engaging, colourful and have that naive charm that radiates from a good piece of folk art.  It's important to me that the composition depict human figures as well as animals and buildings.  Many folk artists paint landscapes but do not include human figures because they are not confident in their abilities to paint them.  The best folk artists rise above their misgivings.  Despite a lack of formal training or maybe because of it, accomplished folk artists do not hesitate to paint the human and animal form. They simply do it.
I picked up the first painting and discovered that it was actually done on a one inch thick pine panel, the edges of which had been nicely routed so it looked like a frame surrounded the painting.  The subject was a "farm scene" and depicted a log cabin, a nearby white-fenced pasture with a barn and two people riding horses around an interior track while a small black dog observes them from the side of the path.  It is autumn. A large deciduous tree in front of the farm house and another in the pasture are shedding their leaves some of which are lying on the ground. Small evergreens line the roadway and the lane leading to the farmhouse where white wood smoke drifts from the chimney into a sky dotted with clouds and birds. If you like "details" in your folk art, this work had it in spades!
The other fascinating aspect was that the artist had incised the outline of all the objects in the painting using a sharp woodworking tool.  The best example of this is the logs making up the farm house. Each one had been carefully outlined or scribed with the tool.
I could tell at a glance that the piece was contemporary and likely not older than perhaps ten or fifteen years. While I would have preferred an earlier date, the quality of the work overcame any misgivings about its age.
Looking back down at the table, I noticed the dealer had two other similar works by the same artist. The second piece depicted another rural autumn scene. This time, however, the artist displays a stone house and stone windmill set back from a circular lane. A tilled field is in the background, birds fly south over head and a young girl in a red dress waves from the lane beside a tricycle while two ducks walk near her. Leaves fall from two of the three larger trees in the foreground. Each stone of the house and the windmill is a "burned" small mark on the wood. Again, multiple details!
The third work I examined was an impressive winter landscape including a house, a barn, two people enjoying skating or sledding on a frozen pond in the foreground. A third individual is returning to the scene with a Christmas tree on a sled behind him. The small black dog makes a reappearance in this work standing beside the frozen pond having just returned from accompanying the fellow with the Christmas tree.  A horse drawn sleigh stands beside the pond and in front of the house.
I stood there for a few moments looking at the works wondering about their origin. Were they mass produced? Were they real thing? Was I missing some negative about them?
I looked again at all three.  The sheer brilliance of the execution, the charm of the subject matter - overcame any doubts I had.  I didn't care of this artist had a factory producing these works - their quality was undeniable.
I quickly negotiated a price and bought all three.  With the paintings safely wrapped and tucked under my arm we completed our tour of the market and then retired from the field to the dining building where we enjoyed a terrific breakfast.
After breakfast, we toured some more of the market and then made our way back to the parking lot and headed for Ottawa.
The three paintings are now safely at home.  Like all superb folk art, they impress me more each time I look at them.  They are a joy to own and to display and a vivid reminder of that special day when Joan and I went to LaChute in search of folk art. 

No comments:

Post a Comment