Prim Folk Artists: Who are they and what do they do?

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A recent opportunity to meet a local Folk Artist and see her Shop prompted a search of Colonial Folk Art. Having very little knowledge of Colonial Artists, I desired a better understanding of the art she is creating and wanted learn more about the Folk Art of that period.  To begin it is necessary to briefly define who Folk Artists or Prim Folk are and what they do.  They are often, but not always, self-taught artists and commonly working-class/blue-collar people who create works based on specific criteria common to their own particular culture. The Folk Art they produce encompasses a wide range of utilitarian and decorative media, including cloth, wood, paper, clay, metal and more. It’s made with a true, untutored, creative passion.  It’s raw, expressive, unconventional, nonconforming, genuine and truly original.  Many Folk Art traditions still thriving today include doll making, furniture building, pottery casting, quilting, and sign painting.    

tavern_sign_crowfoot_inn The local Folk Artist I met is creating original works of her own as well as re-creating American Folk Art of the 18th and 19th century.  Often Folk Artists of this period made their living by their work and some produced large bodies of work which included portraits, landscapes of rural life and signs. Their work often told a story and were very detailed in nature, some pieces served a specific purpose. Since many people were unable to read, the Sign Painters of the period would use pictures to convey a message or provide the name of a location. 

One such reproduction shown to me at the local Folk Artist’s Shop (reproduction shown here) depicted a large building with the word “Inn” written across the front, a tree with a large black crow perched on a limb, and the and the foot of a girl suspended in mid-air with just the hem of a red dress floating along the sign’s edge.  The local Folk Artist interpreted the sign to read literally “Crow Foot Inn” which represented the actual Crofut’s Inn, c. 1892.  This was a common use of imagery for the Colonial Sign Painters. Passersby would be able to read the sign even if they were illiterate.  

Since this type of Folk Art served a specific use and was often exposed to the elements there are only about one hundred such Sign Boards in existence today.  This particular segment of Folk Art is experiencing a resurgence and has quickly become a popular collectible.  For more information and a look at other Folk Art works from the 18th and 19th century, please visit The American Folk Art Museum

Written by Tamara Pearce, owner of Pearce’s Craft Shop.






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