Folk art can be categorized as two- and three-dimensional artwork or as artistic and crafted items that are handmade or appear to be handmade. Some categories of folk art and their sources are listed below.
MASS-PRODUCED FOLK ART
There are countless items that can be purchased that imitate folk crafts. Some have indeed been made by hand by the inexpensive labor of underdeveloped countries—much mass producing is done in Mexico and Central America, the South Seas, China and India.
These items have much to recommend them if the integrity of design is solid as it often is. Note that in folk art the quality is less important than the charm of the piece, and flaws in materials are sometimes considered charming. These are items that claim to be handmade but are available from catalogs or in local gift shops.
In addition, many items such as textiles that we use in our interior are items manufactured on machinery without any authenticity, although they may have a motif that is taken or adapted from a native or folk design.
Textile and wall covering artists who design the patterns for manufactured mass-produced goods go to authentic folk sources for their inspiration, then adapt, simplify or combine designs to create a pattern they hope will be in sync with current market trends.
CONTEMPORARY FOLK ART
Folk art as a pastime is alive and well in developed countries as well. Craft supply stores exist in nearly every town and city to meet our whims. Professional crafters sell their work at fairs and bazaars, through the Internet and in catalogs. They often will sell to a retailer or through a consortium.
Popular among the contemporary crafters are:
• Silk and dried floral arrangements in swags, wreaths or hanging bunches.
• Painted wood items that celebrate holidays or seasons.
• Painted and fired greenware (finished china and porcelain in pre- made forms).
• Pieced quilts for bedding and accessory items.
• Embroidered or needleworked items for pillows, seat cushions and even tissue boxes.
• Dolls of every description.
• Handmade candles.
• Photo frames.
FOLK ART IN TODAY'S INTERIOR
Folk art items are used for accessories in today's interiors. They may be hung on the wall or placed on shelves, mantles or tables. Often the key to success is found in these two rules:
1. Because the items are relatively small, there must be enough of a type of folk art to give substantiation to the style. Grouping folk art on the wall, on shelves or on flat surfaces is known as massing. Here are some ideas for massing folk items:
• Vary the overall size of items placed together, but keep the scale similar (the heaviness versus lightness of the overall size). Remember, very bulky items next to very delicate items likely will look awkward and incorrect.
• Vary the shapes and keep in mind that the shape of the empty or negative space between the items is as important as the filled or positive space.
• Be sensitive to the area that surrounds the items. Provide head room, elbow room or movement room below or around. In other words, don't crowd living space.
• Strive for a balance between livability and museum arrangements. A museum arrangement would be one in which a person never dares to touch, lift, move or examine the items because of their placement. This approach makes interiors look more like model homes rather than livable ones, and the result is stiffness and an unwelcome quality.
This feeling is especially ironic because the folk crafts are made by very real, very down-to-earth people, why would we arrange their wares in a way that makes them unapproachable? This means we also must have an artist's eye as we decide on placement and arrangements.
• Think theme. Folk art in this article has been divided into categories to help you think about the theme or cultural influence that is cohesive from respective regions and cultures. Some things just don't mix. Remember: Unity first, then variety yields harmony. (See D&WC, May, 2000.)
2. Folk art can be an inspiration for window treatment style, for top treatment form or for accessorizing the window. Here are some ideas:
• Use authentic fabric as a top treatment, an asymmetrical sash to tie back a length of fabric, or cut and fabricate into swags, cascades, tabs, ties or banding. Flat Roman shades can effectively show off a handmade fabric.
• Hang arrangements of baskets or artwork right next to the window to create a massed effect of window-plus-art.
• Use handmade items as finials, with tieback hardware or attach them onto the face of the heading or onto flat pelmet stretches.
• Remember that folk art interiors are casual and fun, and they should make us feel that we have traveled far away. We should sense respect for the labor involved by displaying folk art with respect to its artistic qualities. In other words, make the folk art seem important but not intimidating.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.
Folk Art Themes and Sources
Tribal Folk Art—works by members of traditional African tribes or Native American peoples. Folk art often is created by the artistic members of these indigenous groups and can include:
• Woven basketry
• Wall hangings of fabric or feathers
• Wool or cellulose area rugs with tribal designs
• Native textiles
• Wooden or rustic metal utilitarian items
• Animal skin rugs
• Items of leather or tanned hides
• Masks, spears
• Items of animal bone, or animal skulls
Ethnic Folk Art—the work of people who have not historically considered themselves to be tribal nor are they considered so today. They are not always indigenous, either. They might have migrated to and settled in an area and developed their own culture and artistic style there.
Some examples of ethnic peoples include the long-settled immigrants of Central and South America, the South Sea Islands (including Polynesia, Tonga, Samoa), the Philippines, New Zealand and Australia, and the peoples of the Near East, Middle East, North Africa (especially Egypt) and India.
Ethnic folk art often differs according to the area and climate of its origin and can include:
• Clothing of wool, cotton or cellulose fibers (often used as wall hanging or sewn into accessories). Examples would include ponchos from Central and South America, batik from the Philippines or North/West Africa, wool items from New Zealand, and grass skirts from Polynesia.
• Textile items for home use including rugs of woven designs or animal skins, tapa cloth (from Polynesia), bedding and towel items, and textile satchels for travel (these made great pillows while on the road).
• Utilitarian items such as plates, baskets and cooking utensils.
• Artwork—two-dimensional paintings or works of batik or embroidery. Also, sculpture or figurines depicting a cultural heritage such as totems and masks.
Within the ethnic folk art category are specific cultural influences:
The Moorish Influence includes:
• Oriental Rugs—Persian and Turkish
• Tapestries and woven textiles with abstract, geometric complex designs
• Brass plates, vases, pitchers, candle holders—all of Moorish/Islamic design
• Hand-painted tiles in Islamic patterns
The Christian Influence, mostly from Israel, includes:
• Olive wood crèche sets (Nativity sets) and other figurines
• Blown glass
• Shawls and baby blankets
• Colored crystal
• Small lamps
Asian and Oriental Influence from peoples of the vast plains and mountains of Asia (between Siberia and India and between Turkey and the Pacific Ocean), China, Japan and Southeast Asia. This group includes:
• China and pottery
• Silk and cotton textiles woven or embroidered with native motifs
• Oriental rugs
• Painted wooden dolls, figurines and boxes
• Sandalwood fans
• Cinnabar (red carved porcelain) and cloisonné (brass filigree-filled porcelain)
European and American Influences include:
• Pottery and folk-inspired porcelain (such as stein mugs)
• Two-dimensional paintings (often with country themes)
• Tole painted wood such as Norwegian rosemaling or German folk painting
• Stitchery—embroidery, needlepoint, candle wicking, crewel
• Rugs—rag, braided, needlpunched, painted or stenciled floor cloths
• Simple, hand-woven textiles—checks and stripes and simple dobby patterns
• Utilitarian items such as cooking utensils, tableware, candle molds and spinning wheels as well as equipment from domestic or farm life