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    

Primitive Folk Art Sewing Bird Crow+pumpkin Pinkeep- Wood Pincushion-old ButtonsAmerican Folk Art Dan Dipaolo Raven / Crow Primitive Bird Sculpture Carving YqzFolk Art Carved Bird Tree, Wall Hanger, Pennsylvania Style Bird TreeVintage Folk Art Hand Carved Painted Wooden Owl Bird Decoy Sculpture Statue YqzSwedish Large Dala Book - The Magic Horse - Folk Art - English Text - SwedenAntique Primitive Hand Carved Folk Art Duck Decoy With Amazing Patina!Wee Forest Folk Mr Mrs Pig Happy Miniature Mouse Friend Figurine A.petersen 1978Vtg Burl Knot Wooden Folk Art Bird Of Prey Eagle Sculpture Primitive Carving YqzSwedish Dala Horse (s) + Roosters - Museum Collection - Folk Art Book - SwedenAntique Victorian American Folk Art Puppy Dog Painting Saint Bernard PuppiesOld Vintage Signed Candilario Medrano Mythical Animal Beast Mexican Folk ArtOld Folk Art Dog Original Paint Pug Boxer Wood Whimsey Carved Whimsies Aafa NiceAntique Primitive Hand Carved Rooster Chicken Wood Sculpture Statue Folk Art Yqz5" Swedish Dala Horse Carved, Unpainted Pine Wood Sweden Folk ArtVintage Pegleg Yellowlegs Shorebird Decoy Folk Art Wooden Bird Carving YqzMexican Folk Art Tree Of Life Adam Eve Snake Early Pottery Aurelio Flores ?Rare Handforged Iron Horse Heart Weathervane Lighting Rod Antique Aafa Folk ArtVintage Mexican Folk Art Hand Painted Pottery Large Cat Sculpture Statue Nr YqzOriginal Ooak Hand Painted Halloween Sign Plaque Ryta Folk Black Cat Wooden OwlAntique Carved Wood & Animal Bone Preacher Man Oddities Old And Weird Folk ArtFolk Art Primitive Halloween Fall Pumpkin Black Cat Witch Doll Decoration TagVintage Unique Very Old Folk Art Wood Hand Primitive Carved Bird Bald Eagle Vintage Swedish Dala Horse Sweden Folk ArtOoak* Folk Art* Hand-painted* Halloween* Resin Mantle Clock* Black Cat* WitchVintage Tlaquepaque Mexico Chicken Turkey Casserole Mexican Pottery Folk ArtSwedish Dala Horse Hb Book In English Text - Full Of Pictures - Folk Art SwedenVintage Swedish Folk Art Dala Horse-hand Carved/painted-nils Olsson-5 1/4 In.China Folk Red Copper Gild Feng Shui Lucky Monkey Horse StatueFolk Art Unknown Wood Bird Old Fishing LureVintage Hand Carved Wood Wooden Cow Figurine Folk Art Carving SculptureOriginal Outsider Folk Art Painting On Wood "my Dog"Signed 1970s Foltz Pa Redware Folk Art Pottery Rooster Chicken Figurine - PairTiny Carved Bird 19th Century Folk Art Carving Old Original Paint AafaVtg Antique Rooster Folk Art WeathervaneVintage Carved Painted Folk Art Wood Lady Bird With Bucket Figurine Statue YqzFolk Art Primitive Halloween Fall Black Cat Witch Dot Hat Doll Decoration TagLarge Vintage Hand Carved Wood Duck Decoy Folk Art 16 Inches Glass EyesSnake Handler T-marie Nolan Outsider Raw Folk Art Brut Folk Painting OriginalHand-painted? Le Chat Folk Art Cat Needlepoint Canvas For Pillow 11" X 15"Antique Painting Folk Art Cat Kitten Child Sleeping Victorian Oil 1901 Signed Antique Painting Folk Art Victorian Hunting Rabbit Dog Dead Oil Painting Ed Cope Orig Shorebird Pegleg Bird Decoy Wood Carving Folk Art Statue Signed YqzHandmade Folk Art Kitty Cat Calico Quilt-full Size-proceeds To Cat Rescue 1995 Heather Goff Pink Pig Folk Tile Carved Arts & Crafts Aqua Martha's VineyardWelsh Pembroke Corgi Painting Dog Fairy Whimsical Ooak Original Folk Art GiftAntique Primitive Folk Art Wooden Hand Carved & Painted BirdPrimitive Antique Duck Decoy, Extremely Old! Folk Art Circa 1800sOriginal Outsider Folk Art Painting On Wood "best Dog Trick Ever"Sewer Tile American Folk Art Redware Primitive Cat Figurine SignedWood Carved Folk Art Polychrome Painted Bunny / Rabbit Driving A Carrot CarVintage Huichol Indian Yarn Art On Masonite Feature Bird And Snake'a Moment In The Woods' E9art Horse Aceo Folk Naive Original Art Primitive MiniOriginal Folk Art Painting Christine Janeway Sheep Primitive Cow Dog Corgi Cat5" Swedish Dala Horse Mora "masen" Blue Folk Art Wood Carving By Nils OlssonFolk Art Natural Handle Carved Crafted Wooden Walking Stick Cane Staff Horse 2Vintage Folk Art Cat Hooked Rug, No ReserveDecoy Antique Duck Decoy Glass Eyes Primitive Wood Wooden Carved Folk ArtVintage Bird Mid Century Metal Sunburst Starburst Wall Sculpture Jere EraVintage Folk Art Light Wood Primitive Carving Puppy Dog Sculpture Statue Nr YqzSmall 3cm Swedish Dala Horse Red Folk Art Wood Carving