Folk Art and Americana: Bringing History Home
What is folk art?
“I think my ex-wife put it beautifully" – she said, ‘if it makes you smile, it’s folk art.’ - Lloyd Ryder of Ryder Antiques.
To the trained eye, most works of art fit neatly into a designated genre. A Monet or Van Gough display impressionism. If you seek a Picasso, you will find an expert example of abstract cubism. But, you probably wouldn’t expect an art enthusiast to be able to classify the untrained doodling of your distant family member. Well, you can tell your distant relative that they’re in luck and that they can fit their “piece” into its own genre after all – folk art. Folk art is different from other types of art in that it is in a category outside of the other elite groups. In fact, one of the names for folk art is “Outsider art.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin Tulimieri of Nathan Liverant and Sons Antiques located in Colchester, CT. He defined folk art as being the items made outside of the structured urban centers of design and fashion.
Folk art refers to art that came from the pre-industrial or rural societies – the artists, just everyday people - expressing themselves. It’s actually more craft than it is art. “Self Taught Art” is another name used to describe it. Known for its naivety in the way it breaks the rules of proportion and perspective, some even call it “Naïve Art.”
Kevin explained, “The craftspeople - the cabinet makers and the smiths that were a little more removed from the urban centers - were able to rely on their own creative ideas, and their own interpretation of what style and design and fashion would mean.”
Given its different names and descriptions, finding a time of origin for folk art is nearly impossible. Lloyd Ryder of Ryder Antiques agreed, saying, “Folk art can go back to the time of civilization. They didn’t have a name for it at that time, but religious artifacts and carvings are really a form of folk art; and they go back into the Roman times – medieval. The term folk art is more of a modern term.”
Unlike other artistic genres, the appeal of folk art is not in the complexities of the brush strokes, but rather, the uniqueness and originality that you can’t find coming from artists who are trained to design furniture and other objects by the book. As Kevin put it, “[Folk artists] were more influenced by their own design and their own ideas of what’s important, and that, in a sense, is the great beauty of folk art; you see the individuality of the maker of the pieces. You’re not seeing another interpretation of an English design.”
God bless Americana!
If an original one-of-a kind antique is what you fancy, look no further than our folk art category. However, if you want a classic historical piece that preaches patriotism, you may want to look into Americana. While folk artists were crafting their own furniture based on their own original ideas out in the country, the big city craftsmen were making their desks and chairs based off of the Standard English design.
The term Americana includes everything made in early America. Americana is different than folk art – even if both came out during the early days of our country. Kevin explained that while folk artists created furniture and objects based on an idea in their heads, people living in the urban spiral centers – places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, produced much more traditional pieces - “Great high fashion pieces of Americana made in Newport - incredible secretaries and desks and bookcases that are pretty much from the English standardized design book at the time; and it was their interpretation directly from the design books that came out of England in the 18th century.”
When you think Americana, think red, white, and blue. Think baseball, the Statue of Liberty, apple pie, Norman Rockwell paintings. Think typical early America. Include items from carnivals, farms and diners. The beloved spinning wheels and cast iron weathervanes are always a favorite. Feeling patriotic? Me too!
Both Kevin and Lloyd agreed that antiques are appreciated all over the country. “Antiques are everywhere,” said Kevin, “I think everyone is interested and everyone should be interested in Americana. It’s our culture. It’s our shared identity. It’s where we came from.”
Despite its widespread popularity, Kevin said that the interest in Americana seemed to be focused mainly on the east coast and west coast. Lloyd’s experience with selling folk art in the US was mainly in the northern states, but Lloyd’s shop is in Burlington, Canada, so he sells a lot of antiques there as well. Without hesitation, he said that the people in Quebec made up the majority of his buyers. When I asked why he said, “Well, you’ve got the French, and the French are a lot more colorful than the rest of Canada.”
Just as Americana came from the most highly populated urban areas, it seems that most of the people who end up buying come from these same highly populated urban areas.
From Lloyd’s experience, the most popular items of Americana are hook rugs, weathervanes, tobacco, and statues.
So, where do I start?
If you’re looking to incorporate some folk art or Americana into your antique collection, there are two approaches you can take, and which way you go will tell you which type of “Latiquer” you are. Lloyd said it well.” There’s a difference between a collector and a decorator. A decorator will measure a piece and find out where it will fit. A collector will buy the piece and make it fit.”
Adding an antique Americana piece to your home will take you and your guests back to a time when life was simpler. Freedom was new and exciting. Nothing was taken for granted.
You can go any number of directions, when decorating. You may choose to decorate with Americana that highlights the time period of early America. Or, you can choose a region of America, like the Southwest or rural Appalachia. You can focus on a people group – Native Americans, Colonial Americans, even Floridians with their pink flamingos and convertibles.
When I asked Kevin if he had any decorating tips, he responded, without missing a beat, “Buy what you love – the return on your investment is the enjoyment of living with something beautiful every day.”
Check out our experts in Folk Art and Americana!
Ryder Antiques http://www.latique.com/index.php/dealers/profile/42
Nathan Liverant and Sons http://www.latique.com/index.php/dealers/profile/140.
Also, go Latiquing in our Americana and Folk Art sections -
Happy New Year and Happy Latiquing!
Lloyd Ryder of Ryder Antiques
Kevin Tulimieri of Nathan Liverant and Sons Antiques
Bishop, Robert and Weissman, Judith Reiter. The Knopf Collectors' Guides to American Antiques: Folk Art. Knopf. 1983