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Folk art animals have an interesting and rich history

May. 12, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Folk art by definition pretty much follows its own rules and is often utilitarian in its presentation. It is usually the product of working people who create it for decorative and often useful purposes. Most times the artist will be self-taught and outside the established artist community.

Perhaps this is why so many pieces of antique folk art in America incorporated animals as their subjects. Whether it is a weathervane with a rooster atop it or a carved decoy duck, the piece reflects what the artists of yesteryear encountered each day. For example, a Native American or frontiersman hunted deer and rode horses and a 19th Century farmer milked cows and fed chickens. The folk artists products were based on what they did each day in their daily life.

Hence what some of the folk art collectors seek today are not only animal inspired weathervanes but also carved, painted or stitched animal figures. Many common objects like quilts, nutcrackers and kraut cutters could be and were carved, woven or embroidered with animals as the primary subject.

Many genres' fall into this category besides woodcarvings though they tend to be one of the most popular. As the Industrial Revolution moved into place in the 19th Century, many machine-made metal objects would use the same subjects to appeal to its market. So such products as boot scrapers, mill weights and inkwells joined the parade of animal inspired products.

All sorts of paper and needlework dating back to the founding of America showed a love for animals as their inspirations. The Pennsylvania Dutch, the African Americans and Native Americans quilted, wove and embroidered animals indigenous to their community. They painted, molded and drew buffalos, horses, deer, rabbits and more on hides, canvas and paper.

The majority of time the makers of folk art are anonymous, however not always. Some of the artists associated with it include; Charles Hart the penguin carver, Wilhelm Schimmel known for his eagle carvings plus several Kentucky artisans like Minnie and Garland Adkins, Carl McKenzie, Twyla Money and Tim Lewis.

Many times collectors will choose to just accumulate collections of one animal like rabbits of all types. Another collector might choose to gather items from a certain period such as the frontier era and then there are those who will collect items from a particular locale such as Appalachia. As with all collections and artists, it's all in the eyes of the beholder and they can make their own rules of presentation.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.