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    

Vintage Hv Shourds New Jersey Hissing Brant Duck Decoy Hollow Body Folk Art YqzAntique/vintage Hand Painted Hunting Bluebill Hen Wood Duck Decoy Folk Art YqzVintage George Walker Signed 2 Part Hollow Body Brant Duck Decoy Nj Folk Art YqzLarge Will Kirkpatrick Wek Folk Art Wooden Carved Calico Cat Sculpture 20" LVtg Two Part Hollow Body Turned Head Wooden Duck Decoy Folk Art Glass Eyes YqzCarl Forslund Hand Carved Wood Bird Audubon Folk Art Hunting Cabin Décor Great Ca 1800's Cast Brass Folk Art " Chicken " Trivet - 10" X 7" / Exc PatinaD.b.w. '77 Folk Art Hand Carved Plover Shorebird Wood Bird Decoy Sculpture 6 YqzLarry Tawes Sr Blue Heron Maryland Folk Art Bird Wood Carving Sculpture #2 YqzJim Sams "great Blue Heron" Folk Art Bird Wood Carving Sculpture Signed #1 YqzVintage Greg Shooner Redware Folk Art Pottery Still Bank W/ Bird Finial, Ca.1988Primitive Grungy Skeleton Kitty Cat Halloween Doll & Her Little Jack O'lanternVintage Metal Bread Box With Shelf Rooster Hen Farms Painted Folk Art By JmdHand Carved Wood Eagle Statue Figurine Bird Folk Art Sculpture Vintage LargeFolk Art Old Antique Brass & Leather Horse Equestrian Tack Patina AafaVintage Hunting Hand Painted Lesser Scaup Drake Wooden Duck Decoy Folk Art YqzSet Of 3 Swedish Dala Horse Folk Art Wood Carving Nils Olsson W/ TagSoapstone Puffin Hand Carved By J. R. Oktollik Inuit Signed Folk Art BirdPrimitive Grungy Big Grinning Pumpkin Lady Halloween Doll & Her Black Kitty CatPrimitive Folk Art Easter Bunny Rabbit Shelf SitterNancy Thomas Folk Art 8"x 8"metal Plaque Scarce April Showers+3"duck Art PlaqueAafa Antique Folk Art Carved Duck Decoy Silhouette Original PaintOn Watch Orig Framed Canvas Panel Painting House Cat Folk 8 X 10 Karla GerardPeering Cat Orig Framed Canvas Panel Painting Folk Houses 8 X 10 Karla GerardPrimitive Halloween Salem Tavern Cat Doll~folk Art Halloween Decor~handmadeR. A. Miller American Folk Art Chickens And RoosterVintage Antique Folk Art Ice Spear Fishing Decoy Wood & Metal Duck Bird DecoyVintage Carved & Painted Mallard Duck Ice Fishing Lure Fish Decoy Folk Art YqzWood Carving Bird And Goat Hand ChiseledBeing A Bird Amongst Birds Nolan Outsider Raw Folk Art Brut Painting Naive Vtg Primitive Hand Carved Screech Owl Bird Folk Art Wood Sculpture Signed #4 YqzPrimitive Grungy Black Kitty Cat Skeleton Halloween Doll & Her FishbonePrimitive Grungy Pumpkin Lady Halloween Doll & Her Black CatPrimitive Folk Art Doll Raggedy Ann Rooster Chicken Wire Ooak Prim Annie TagPrimitive Grungy Vintage-look Grinning Black Kitty Cat Halloween Doll & MoonPrimitive Grungy Big Pumpkin Lady Halloween Doll & Her Kitty CatPrimitive Grungy Folk Art Bird Sculpture Paper Statue Figure Art Doll OoakPrimitive Grungy Pumpkin Lady Halloween Doll & Her Sculpted Black Kitty CatPainted Outsider Bird Feeder/newspaper Holder? Folk Art From Yard EnvironmentDollhouse Miniature Country Folk Art Framed Painting Rustic Rooster By K.manuelVintage Antique Folk Art Hand Painted Cat Oval Wood Serving Tray 17x11.5R A Miller Outsider Chicken Rooster Marker Paint On Tin Signed Free Wall HangerPrimitive Grungy Folk Art Doll Dog Vintage Rag Collectible Dolls Handmade Ooak*~*primitive*~* Hp Folk Art Prim Spotted Pig *~* Old Reclaimed WoodAntique Vintage Scotty Dog Folk Art Lamp - Tail Is The On/off Switch!Antique Vintage Duck Decoy Folk Art Wood Heavy Old Artist Signed "eub" 2/1/1965Hand Painted Vintage Metal Lamp Black Cat Witch Moon Bat Halloween Folk Art Mmw Vintage Beaver Creek Woodworking Large Wooden White Bunny Rabbit, Beaman, IowaMiniature Quebec Primitive Folk Art Wood Carving Bird Art Hummingbird CanadaVintage Tonala Mexican Burnished Pottery Cat Hand Painted Folk ArtAntique 1913 Painted Silhouette Portrait Woman & Dog Unframed Folk ArtFolk China Cloisonne Enamel Bronze Palace Guardion Foo Fu Dog Lion Statue Pair Ken Edwards El Palomar Mexico Folk Art Pottery Blue Bird Quail DecanterAntique American Folk Art Primitive Carved Wood Slab Pig Cutting Board Huge 20"Vintage Menard Signed Vermont Folk Art Hand Carved Snow Owl Bird Sculpture 5 YqzVintage Gadwall Hen Wood Duck Decoy Havre De Grace / Jersey Folk Art #9 Yqz18 Inch/ China Folk Bronze Gilt Wall Hanging Bird Magpie Censer Incense StatuePrimitive Grungy Short Grinning Kitty Cat Halloween Doll & Her Grinning PumpkinVtg White Dala Rooster Figurine Hand Carved Wooden Folk Art Rooster Bird Sweden2" Black Swedish Dala Horse Folk Art Wood Carving By Nils Olsson Signed