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]

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]

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]

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 Carved Wood Folk Art Root Table Squirrel, Deer, Swan, Snake, Stork, CatAntique Authentic 19thc Folk Art Zinc Horse Head Trade Sign, Life Sized, NrPrimitive Punch Needle ~"boo & Jack"~ Folk Art ~ Cat ~jol~ Pumpkin Shelf SitterAntique Miniature Rooster Weathervane Salesman Sample Primitive Folk Art Vtg OldEarly19thc Antique Folk Art Reverse-painted Glass Portrait Painting Woman & DogAntique Carved Wood Rocking Horse Folk Art Equestrian Statue Childs Pull Toy Antique Folk Art Cow Bull Steer Weathervane Whirligig Windvane AafaNice Ca.1923 Gene Hendrickson Northfield, N.j. Hollow Carved Black Duck Decoy NrOld Horse Weathervane Whirligig Folk Art Vintage Antique Metal Loon Bird Sculpture Carving Wood Duck Decoy Folk Art Randy Tull Ducks UnlimitedRare Antique Carved Wood Cat Folk Art Decorative Figurine Czechoslovakian C1900Original Large Antique American Folk Art Wood Carving Irish Setter Dog Nr YqzPrimitive Folk Dog Puppy Bulldog Halloween Vintage Style Bear DollLarge Antique Handmade Folk Art Pinecone & Carved Wood Eagle Bird SculptureChina 1400's Ming Cizhou Folk Kiln Scholar Ware Toy Horse Saddle Miniature YqzAntique Duck Decoy Carved Folk Art Mallard Original Paint & Patina C1880-1920 Hand Painted Black Cat Jol Witch Magic Cauldron Moon Haunted Halloween Folk ArtAntique Duck Decoy Carved Folk Art Glass Eyes Orig Paint Lead & Leather Tie 1900Circa 1890's Antique German Horse Pull Toy Paper Mache Folk On Platform NrLarge Primitive - Important Antique Sea Bird - Folk Art Wood Decoy On Oak StandAntique Rooster Butter Stamp Mold Aafa Chicken Folk Art Primitive TreenOriginal 1991 Folk Art Hand Carved Wooden Bird Signed Bradley Painted YqzVintage Naive Folk Art Amish Farm Landscape Print Horse & Buggy Erma Hoover YqzGenuine Antique Carved American Folk Art Wooden Child's Carousel Horse Wood Gorgeous 1874 Prison Folk Art Convict Laramie, Wy Love Bird Wood Carved BoxVintage Akta Dalahemslojd G.a. Olsson Green Dala Horse, Large 10" Wood, Folk ArtHand Carved Folk Art Vintage Dog2 Old Folk Art Woman Guro Masks W Red Leopard Bird Tattoo Hairdos & Teeth EstateOriginal Antique American Folk Art Wood Carving Bloodhound Dog Nr YqzPrimitive Antique Bird Cage Wood & Wire Tole Painted Americana Folk Art AafaAntique Rajasthan Rajput Group Of 5 Stuffed Embroidery Animal Folk Art Toys YqzAntique-vintage-factory-old-folk Art-mason-hays-teal-duck DecoyVintage Folk Art '83 Orig Signed W.n.p. Carved Wood Canvasback Duck Decoy Nr YqzVintage Folk Art Hand Carved Painted Wood Goose Bird Inuit Sculpture Figure YqzPrimitive Grungy Folk Art ~ 29" Haggie Lou Witch Doll W/cat~sewmanystitchesSigned Swedish 7" Wood Dala Horse Hand-painted Details Mod Folk Art No Reserve !Vintage Primitive Folk Art Carved Wood Wooden Cat Kitty Door Stop Doorstop YqzHand Painted Wood Mantle Clock Candle Holder Witch Black Cat Halloween Folk ArtVintage Folk Art Hand Carved Signed 'q' Wooden Rooster Bird Statue Sculpture YqzVintage Akta Dalahemslojd G.a. Olsson White Dala Horse, 6.5" Wood, Folk ArtChina Folk Collection Brass Talisman Evil Spirits Door Foo Dog Lion Pair StatuesWelsh Pembroke Corgi Painting Whimsical Folk Art Dog Squirrel Mice And Rabbit Mint 1st Lp W/cat',aleanna, --- 80's,acid Folk,irish,music,recordsOrig Antique American Folk Art Wood Carving Small Hound Beagle Dog Figurine YqzOriginal Antique American Folk Art Wood Carving English Bulldog Dog Nr YqzSwedish Dala Horse - 6.5 Inch. GudmundsFolk Art Duck Fishing Lure Mallard Musky Aprox 6" Glass Eyes Muskie Wood DecoyVintage Swedish Painted Wood Black Dala Horse Nils Olsson Christmas Folk ArtPrimitive Black Cat Folk Art Doll ~ Halloween GreeterPrimitive Black Folk Art Cat Doll Set~ Halloween Candy Corn ~Folk Art Duck Fishing Lure Mallard Prop Bait 2 Treble Hooks Wooden Glass Eyes2001 Fenton Art Glass Rooster Folk Art Design Cute Cow Face Green Eyes Original Canvas Oil Painting Gordon Bruce New Folk ArtAntique Vintage Wood Wooden Duck Decoy Hunting Primitive Bait Hook Folk Art,birdAntique Folk Art Duck Decoy Carved Wood Stained Sculpture Carving Figure Nr YqzVintage Folk Art Naive Hand Carved Wood Owl Bird Figurine Sculpture Carving YqzHand Cut Signed 1942 Carew Rice Silhouette Hunter Man Boy And His Hound DogTracey Ann Finley Original Outsider Raw Folk Crushed Can Black Dog Art Funky Fun18th Century Hand Forged Iron 5 1/2 Inch Good Luck Snake Hex Southern Folk ArtCorgi Dog Swamp Thing Cat Halloween Ooak Hp Vintage Style Folk Wood Bowl Jsmith