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    

19thc Antique Folk Art Oil Painting, Shih-tzu Dog Portrait, Licking Chops, Nr1920's Antique Folk Art Style Pointer Spaniel Dog Hunt Club Portrait Painting#1 Antique Cobalt Blue Bird Stoneware Jug Ft. Edwards Ny Primitive Folk Art NoreAntique Vintage Hand Carved Wood Duck Decoy Folk Art With Glass EyesAntique Art Deco Era Spaniel Dog Old Cast Iron Puppy Statue Folk Art DoorstopVintage Chesapeake Bay Primitive Maryland Folk Art Canvasback Old Duck DecoyOld Antique Mason Standard Grade Mallard Hen Duck Decoy Original Paint Folk ArtAafa Vintage Folk Art Chesapeake Bay Canvasback Duck Decoy In Old Paint Vintage Nils Olsson Handcarved/handpainted Swedish Folk Art Dala Horse W LabelBreininger Redware Folk Art Pottery Robesonia Pa - 2003 Bird FigurineVintage 12' Dala Horse Grannas A Olsson Carved Wood Painted Folk Art Sweden Antique Western Decor Cowboy Folk Art Americana Display Board Vtg Horse Tools Antique Victorian Era Federal Eagle Folk Art Wood Salvage Carved Old Bird StatueOld Folk Art Redhead Duck Decoy Antique Hunting Upper Susquehanna RiverAutumn Starlings Outsider Artist T-marie Nolan Raw Folk Art Brut Bird Painting Antique Vintage Hand Carved Wood Duck Decoy Folk Art With Glass EyesFive Inch Nils Olsson Blue Dala Handpainted Horse Sweden Folk Art SouvenirFine Pair-both Hand Carved-folk Art-uncle Sam Whirligig-lady W/ Cat & BirdRaku Cat Sculpture Folk Art Ceramic Pottery By Face Jug Maker Mitchell GraftonAntique Early 1800's Cow Pull Toy On Wheels Hide Folk Art Pennsylvania ToyAntique Scottish Letter Opener Cow Bone Folk Art Dated 1871 Thistles Decoration Breininger Redware Folk Art Pottery Robesonia Pa - 2003 Sheep FigurineOoak Halloween Folk Art Handpainted Wood Candy Box Witch Black Cat Pumpkin WitchAntique American Folk Art Sewertile Pottery Bird HouseVintage Mechanical Folk Tramp Art Hand Carved Wood Cigarette Box Bird AntiqueWhimsical Folk Art - Aceo - Christmas - Chinese Crested Dog - Ooak Robin JayneWhimsical Folk Art - Aceo - The Admirer - Chinese Crested Dog - Ooak Robin JaynePrimitive Folk Black Cat Spooky Stoneware Plate Platter Halloween DecorationAntique Oil Painting Horse Racing Folk Art Original '40s New Jersey EquestrianHalloween Black Kitty Cat Painting On Wood Autumn Fairy Prim Folk Art Gourd LeafVintage Handmade Collection Rare Shadow Play Folk Art With China Pig Eight QuitWendell Gilley Hand Carved Wood Bird-black Capped ChickadeeGreat Antique American Folk Art Child's Pull Toy Depicting A Spotted Dog Ca1930sVintage Hand Carved Whittled Wooden Folk Art Eagle/birdVintage Wood Carving Shore Bird Laughing Gull By Whitton - Decoy / Folk ArtAntique Carved Wood Wooden Irish Terrier Dog Textured Folk Art Black ForestFolk Art Duck Prop Bait Fishing Lure (1 Treble Hook) Wooden Glass EyesAlice In Wonderland Down The Rabbit Hole Canvas Folk Art Aceo PrintAntique Folk Art Carved Eider Hen Duck Decoy Old Maine HuntingAntique Vintage Dala Wooden Rooster Made In Sweden Hand Painted 6 3/4" OlssonFolk Art Wooden Owl Decoy Made From Vintage New Jersey Cedar Black Duck Decoy Early Decoy Duck Whistler Golden Eye Blue Bill George Bacon Folk Art Lake CarverLarge Dala Horse From Sweden G.a. Olsson 12 Inches Tall Older Label Lot Of 7 Red 1 Black Dala Swedish Wooden Horse Figures - Variety SizesEarly Folk Art Hand Carved Sleeping Cat - Original SurfaceCarved Hobo Nickel Fenced In Cat Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Antique Vintage Wood Duck Decoy Folk Art Mallard DrakeChinese Folk Collection Old Porcelain Station Kylin Foo Dog Lions Censer PairTabby Cat Kitty Chair Book Folk Art Pen Watercolor Aceo Original PaintingRooster Wood Carving By Kentucky Folk Art Master "minnie Adkins"Witch Black Cat Spider Web Folk Halloween Sfa Susan Brack Art Aceo Ebsq EhagWood Hand Made Folk Art Duck Decoy Ornament With Vintage Hardware Fishing LureFolk Art Duck Mallard Prop Bait Fishing Lure (1 Treble Hook) Wooden Glass EyesSigned Leo Koppy ~ Hand Carved Brown Wood Rabbit ~ 16" Long ~ Glass Eyes ~ OoakHand Painted Wood Vintage Box Black Cat Witch Magic River Halloween Folk Art NrQuebec Folk Art Wood Carving Signed By Ferdinand Boucher ~ Hunter With RabbitOriginal Folk Art Painting Deco Lady Woman Gypsy Bird American Chestnut Folk Art,billy GoatWilliraye Studio Folk Art Chicken Riding A Goat Ww1402 Vintage Hand Carved Painted Wood Folk Art Shore Bird Joe Anderlik ?