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Folk Art, Vernacular, and People Art.

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What is Folk Art?

“Folk” is vernacular for ordinary people of a country or region typically reflects their lifestyle.

Folk Art began as early as the 18th century across Europe and North and South America. Even though folk art is still not mainstream and is little known, it did find its place in the art world between Fauvism and Modernism. 

New England, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the Hudson River sections especially saw an emergence of folk artists to capture the unobstructed scenery, picturesque landscapes, cluster of villages, and forest. We can view folk artists at museums like the  Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) or American Folk Art Museum in New York City. However, galleries are still shy about exhibiting folk art artists because it is considered low-brow art; it is not as popular or financially lucrative as other art movements.  

American Folk Art.

American Folk Art is art created by ordinary people like homemakers or tradespeople, journeymen, and women who went from town to village to offer their service as a portraitist or create art for their pleasure. These artists’ works are also called naïve arts, outside arts, self-taught arts, or primitive arts. I find some labeling harshed; is it naïve? Maybe, is it self-taught? Surely, primitive… I’m afraid I have to disagree, and the term outside art makes me pose. Outside of what? Isn’t a new movement by its adjective outside the established social movements? But that discussion will be for another article.  

Folk Art, Self-Taught Art.

Folk art is a movement not limited to paintings and is in sculpture, furniture, and quilting. Families with financial means, in the late eighteen century, sent their children to finish their education at female establishments for women and, for more academic studies, colleges for men. With a passion for art, the working class taught themselves to adorn their homes and surroundings. The subjects painted by folk artists are as varied as their environments, daily life, countryside scenes, landscapes, religious icons, and portraits of family, friends, and Farm animals. Folk artists often did not sign their work; thus, many works cannot be linked to their creator.

Rise of Folk Art.

Owning a portrait or a painting was a symbol of status not accessible to all. Trained artists were not available or affordable outside of major cities; to meet the demand in county villages, traveling artists emerged. These artists spanned from town to town, putting advertisements in local papers offering their services and seeking customers.  

Renowned Folk Artists.

Ammi Phillips

Ammi Phillips (1788 to 1865) was born on April 24, in Colebrook, Conn. Phillips was self-taught, and at 21, he began painting people’s portraits; he advertised in the Berkshire Record. Ammi Phillips was prolific; his most famous work is Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog. (American Fork Art Museum Ammi Phillips)

 Anna Mary Robertson Moses

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, nicknamed Grandma Moses (1860 to 1961). She was a famous folk-art painter who began painting at the age of 78, her childhood dream. Moses painted rural life scenes but omitted modern life’s features like tractors and telephone poles. ”Christmas” and ”Grandma Moses Goes to the Big City are part of a landscape series.

Erastus Salisbury Field  

Erastus Salisbury Field (May 19, 1805, in Leverett, Massachusetts – June 28, 1900, in Sunderland, Massachusetts) was an American folk art painter of portraits, landscapes, and history pictures. 

Final words.

The saying “Art is in the eye of the beholder” has never been more true than in Folk art. It has been ignored for a long time and was collected by a few. In my opinion, it has been overlooked for too long. I have linked some of the artists you can view at the Smithsonian Museum of Art. I hope this article will get the reader curious and open the door to exploring this genre. Happy exploring.

Folk artists’ collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Include: 

 Chelo Amezcua, Felipe Archuleta, Emery Blagdon, Alexander Bogardy, David Butler, James Castle, Ulysses Davis, Thornton Dial, Sam Doyle, William Edmondson, Ralph Fasanella, Howard Finster, James Hampton, Bessie Harvey, Lonnie Holley, Clementine Hunter, Dan Miller, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Grandma Moses, Eddy Mumma, J.B MurrayHorace Pippin, Martín Ramírez, Achilles Rizzoli, Jon Serl, Bill Traylor, Melvin Way, George Widener, Charlie Willeto, Purvis Young, and Albert Zahn

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