Using folk art for function & style
Often questionable in authenticity yet highly sought after, folk art is the creation of the common person but has significance to our society.
Simplistic in nature, its origin is steeped in the 19th century Industrial Revolution. And because of the commercial industry’s later years of co-opting the concept and muddying the waters of what true Folk Art is, finding antique folk art is like a treasure hunt — road-mapping our society to its roots.
Carnival antique folk art
The 19th century was the beginning of the traveling carnival, specifically in rural North America. Among the antique folk art you can find today are the remnants of this time in history — whether it’s juggling pins, quirky handmade carnival punks or carnival horse heads. Any of these items are sure to bring about questions and conversation. Because they are incredibly unique, antique folk art pieces can be strategically placed to create a pop of interest in a room. Some of the more controversial pieces, however, certainly will bring discussion at parties! If you have a room dedicated to the history of Americana, pieces from this time would be key editions. Antique folk art carnival banners can be used in game rooms where friends meet for pool, poker and darts.
Folk art & weather vanes
Weather vanes are a mainstay in designer folk art and have been utilized for centuries. Originally weather vanes were used, and are still used, to monitor the direction of wind to detect potential weather situations and were shaped like animals such as roosters, horses or pigs. This antique folk art was often made of iron or copper. Collectors now find weather vanes on stands to use for decoration. A great spot for them is a kitchen counter next to a vase of fresh flowers. Or several of them can be grouped to hang on the wall to create an art installation in a den. Farm-to-table restaurants are also an appropriate location to showcase antique folk art such as weather vanes. They can be part of a backdrop and landscape to help create an authentic feel.
Use folk art for decorative storage
Blanket chests are a typical find in antique folk art and were popular through the 19th century. They were made of sturdy wood, often hand-painted and had multiple uses for the working class family. These designer folk art items were not only for convenient storage of blankets on cold nights but also doubled as seating because multiple chairs in a modest household were a luxury. They were often made of pine and only extremely wealthy families acquired these chests in other woods like mahogany or walnut.
These chests are still a wonderfully solid piece of furniture to use for preserving your favorite linens or can be used to store delicate clothing, as they were typically lined with cedar to keep away insects. These antique folk-art pieces are ideal to also use as a functional place to display collectibles right on top. Put in a prominent spot in a living room or use it as a coffee table if you have acquired a shorter version. Put one against the wall next to the front door and place a colored glass dish or bowl on top of it. You then have a decorative location to place mail.
Designer folk art brings other functional items to the table, so to speak, such as advertising boxes. Being a less expensive wood, these boxes are usually made of pine but can also be constructed of metal. They were used in shipping and displaying products. Prop one up on an end table to store books you want to reach easily or place one on a shelf to store card games.
Shaker pantry boxes are another example of antique folk art that is highly collectable. Shakers lived a simple and modest lifestyle so the antique folk art derived from their culture was of practical use. These pantry boxes were often made of bentwood, pine or maple and were used to store dry items. They were usually tiered with an assortment of sizes for stacking and easy storage. If you have multiples, you can place these boxes under a side table to add character and utility, as you store items inside of them. If you are low on space, they also make great statement pieces all their own as they sit on top of a kitchen bar or island — while keeping your most treasured cooking tools inside.
What is good to remember when decorating with antique folk art is to not be tied down to the theme. Because these pieces are one-of-a-kind and eclectic, they’ll be statement items in any room, so long as they’re thoughtfully placed. It’s all about finding the right quality pieces and staying creative.