Because many folk artists were laborers who interacted with nature on a daily basis, their paintings, sculptures, and other objects frequently display a strong connection with the animal kingdom. These pieces were generally made by hand for domestic use, and featured animal figures drawn from life experiences or cultural traditions. Animals appear in all forms of folk art, from decorative, but functional, household objects to “naïve” works of art.

Beyond the painted depictions of farm animals and country life, some folk art works focus on creatures as their primary subject. Highly ornate ink-and-watercolor images of birds were popular household ornaments, along with portraits of deer, bears, bison, and even exotic wild beasts. Crafts executed specifically by women, like embroidery or paper cutouts, regularly focused on animals and nature as symbols of comfort and abundance. Quilts also frequently incorporated animal imagery, as with Harriet Powers’ “Creation of the Animals” quilt of 1886, which features iconic bible scenes filled with wild creatures. Others such as the famous “Bird of Paradise” quilt from the 1850s relied on the symbolic associations we give to common creatures like owls and peacocks.

In addition to items of domestic ornament, animal imagery was commonly used to beautify utilitarian objects, like stoneware pottery, grandfather clocks, rocking chairs, trunks, and other types of furniture. Some functional objects were actually shaped like animals, giving rise to cat boot scrapers, crocodile nutcrackers, mill-weights resembling farm animals, frog-shaped pipes, cast-iron bird doorstops, dog’s head inkwells, and piggy banks.

The close relationship between human and horse has inspired many craft representations, from ancient Chinese jade horses to the colorful wooden Dala horses made in Sweden. During the 18th and 19th centuries, horses were essential to modern life, a fact reflected in their frequent appearance in all styles of folk art. There are intricately carved carousel horses, miniature equine models accompanying toy soldiers, racing horse whirligigs, rocking horses, and horse-head shaped hitching posts.

During this era, sculptures of animals were also widely used outside the home as decorative weathervanes or business signage. Beautiful copper renderings of leaping stags, charging stallions, or stoic roosters often topped weathervanes, though many versions were more cheaply produced in wood. Figural signs, like the wooden fish sculptures appearing above fish markets in seaside towns, provided a quick visual way to advertise a product, particularly in an era when many citizens could not read.

Decoys and lures fall into another classic folk-art genre, encompassing a variety of objects made to mimic a wild creature to aid in hunting or fishing. The most collected form of these handcrafts are duck decoys, which were adopted from the Native American practice and widely produced in the late 19th and early 20th century. The most desirable decoys tend to be highly realistic pieces made from solid wood, with natural looking feathers and heads.

Traditionally, indigenous communities created many objects in animal form to represent spiritual beings, like carved totems or ritual costume masks. Particularly collectible are the huge, complex masks created by Native American people living along the northwestern coast of the United States, which combined painted wood, fabric, and feathers to reference each clan’s animal ancestors.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Bob Vermillion - Folk Art Tackle

Bob Vermillion - Folk Art Tackle

Bob Vermillion started collecting lures at age 16. Accordingly, his handsome site is dedicated to his love of folk-… [read review or visit site]

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]

American Folk Art Museum

American Folk Art Museum

The American Folk Art Museum's website showcases current and past exhibitions along with their permanent collection… [read review or visit site]

Anonymous Works

Anonymous Works

This blog combines American primitive folk art, vintage vernacular photography, outsider art, and other interesting… [read review or visit site]

The Outsider Art Pages

The Outsider Art Pages

A modern look at folk and outsider art with a focus on what people are doing to keep these traditions alive. The si… [read review or visit site]

Folk Art in Bottles

Folk Art in Bottles

Whether you call them Bottle Whimseys, Whimsey Bottles, Puzzle Bottles, or Whimsies, this site showcases great folk… [read review or visit site]

Index of American Design

Index of American Design

The Index of American Design project (1935-1942) was an effort to catalog American decorative arts objects from the… [read review or visit site]

Stoveburner.com

Stoveburner.com

A stunning collection of 162 images of stoveburners, those corroded cast iron elements that power stoves, broilers,… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Handmade Folk Art Wool Hooked Rug W/ Calico Cat Kitten NrFolk Art Primitive Painted Cloth Doll-antique Shoes Dress & Litho Cat AtticbabysVintage American Western Folk Art Watercolor Painting Sioux Indian Chief HorseAmerican Folk Art Carved Wood Bird W Original PaintExtremely Rare O/c Painting-a Sow Pig-signed-folk Art-primitive-naive-so RareVintage 3d Folk Art Hand Painted Iron 36" Milk Cow Ice Cream Dairy Farm Sign YqzHand Carved Wood Dog Retriver Hand Painted Folk Art DogOriginal 1991 Menno Shirk Signed Dutch Folk Art Rooster Primitive Sculpture YqzUnique! Antique Inuit Eskimo Folk Art Bird Decoy Burl Wood Carving Sculpture YqzVintage Pair Carved Wood & Brass Mourning Dove Pigeon Bird Folk Art Figures YqzHand Carved Wood Dog Pointer Hand Painted Folk Art DogAntique Folk Art Primitive Carved Wooden Song Bird,pa. Dutch Style,orig.paint.#1Antique 19th Primitive Yellow Glazed Earthenware Rabbit Bunny Mold Folk Art YqzSigned Decoy Shore Bird Oystercatcher Painted On Driftwood Folk Art 11"h Nc 1987Primitive Folk Art Raggedy Bunny RabbitAntique Folk Art Primitive Carved Wooden Song Bird,pa. Dutch Style,orig.paint.#2Original Signed Johnny Sanchez Costa Rica Folk Art Humming Bird Pottery Vase Yqz1987 Don Faigley Duck Call Folk Art Tiger Maple Tulip Lollipop Butter Stamp MoldPrimitive Folk Art Raggedy Ann Doll /chicken Toile Dress/14"/easter On The FarmOrig Costa Rican Folk Art Squirrel Cuckoo Bird Painting On Feather Signed YqzLeo Gervais Hand Carved Duck Large Unusual Old Folk ArtHandmade Primitive Folk Art Easter/spring Bunny Rabbit Doll Shadowbox DecorationChinese Folk White Copper Silver Fengshui Evil Foo Dog Lion Beast Statue Pair Antique 19thc Butter Scoop Bird Effigy Curler Aafa Folk Art Primitive Stamp MoldPrimitive Folk Art Bunny Rabbit Doll Shabby ChicOld Hand Made Fishing Lure Alaska Or Northwest Coast Animal Claw Mother Of PearlOoak Primitive Folk Art Rabbit Pull Along Miniature Cottage Kitty1928 Sly Cat Lincoln Penny Carved Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 13041989 Vaillancourt Folk Art Rabbit Holding Basket Handcrafted Figurine #473 2006Mexican Alebrije Folk Art Painted Wood Carved Rabbit Animal Oaxaca SignedOriginal Painting Folk Art Landscape Apple Farm Tree Ladder Picking Fruit Dog Group Of Three Vintage Folk Art Working Duck DecoysTracey Ann Finley Original Outsider Folk Mini Blue Cat Wood Cutout Painting .99!Primitive Black Folk Art Doll W Cat Rusty Bell Vintage Grungy Lambs Wool Hair Large Folk Art Hollow Aluminum Rooster. Trade Sign Original GiltVtg Carved Wood Robin ? Bird Hand Painted Folk Art Not SignedKildeer! Jim & Pat Slack Carved Shore Bird! Folk Art Decoy Figurine!Folk Chinese Palace Brass Fengshui Guard Pixiu Foo Fu Dog Door Lion Statue Pair Antique Primitive Folk Art Carved Owl Bird Curly Maple Cane Walking Stick 1800sJack Rabbit Slim Table Top Key Caddy Folk Art Hand Made Usa Artist Bill Huebbe3 Vintage Sewing Pincushion's Folk Art Wood Sewing Box Bird, Doll,sewing BirdAntique Vintage Folk Art Stump Work Needlework Wool Work Cat Pillow #2Primitive Black Folk Art Doll W Sunflowers Rooster Pillow Lambs Wool Hair Ruddy Turnstone! Jim & Pat Slack Carved Shore Bird! Folk Art Decoy Figurine!Bluewing Teal Duck Decoy Folk Art Larry Lynch Victor Mason Pratt Padco Evans Welsh Pembroke Corgi Painting Dog Quilt In Bed Whimsical Original Folk Art GiftLucky Chinese Folk Feng Shui Brass Copper Animal Zodiac 3 Monkey Statue V255gOriginal Folk Jacob Landis Art Aceo Pen Ink Drawing Rabbit Woodland Feb Tw 2016Aceo - Original Miniature Watercolour Painting - Folk Art - Witch Cat River Boat4 German Wool Sheep Wooden Vintage Darling Includes Broach Pin Folk Art GermanyMexican Flamingo Bird Sergio Bustamante Style Unsigned Folk Art Collectible 16"Very Old Persian Folk Art Animal RugFolk Art Horse And Rabbit By MennoOriginal Modern Folk Art Painting Sarah Wyman Whimsical Woman Girl Cat Portrait Vintage J. Weaver Carved Wood Sandpiper Shore Bird Hand Painted Folk Art SignedOld Antique Vintage Wood Duck Decoy White Folk Wildlife Art Birds Hand Carved?"true Lovel!" Valentine Ooak Aceo Original Welsh Corgi Dog Folk Art Unusual American Folk Art Leather Refrigerator Magnet Of A Cow Ca 1940sMarked 1993 'jm' Artisan Folk Art Kitty Cat Dangle Pierced 2.75" EarringsAceo - Original Miniature Watercolour Painting - Folk Art - Witch Cat Cauldron