American folk art paintings came out of the relative lack of exposure artists in the New World had to traditional European art influences. As the work of their predecessors faded with time and distance, self-taught American painters developed their own techniques, largely ignoring tried-and-true painting principles such as perspective, depth, and realism favored in the Old World.

The folk art paintings that were produced in the Colonies and United States are generally divided into four genres; portraits, landscapes, historical or religious paintings, and still lifes. Early itinerant portrait painters traveled the country, creating commissioned portraits for wealthy individuals. Many of these were made with oil paint on canvas, though some portraits were also painted onto wood, paper, or glass. Although most folk art was not created for commercial purposes, untrained artists like John Brewster Jr., Jacob Maentel, Sheldon Peck, John Bradley, and William Matthew Prior were able to support themselves primarily through portrait painting.

Other portrait artists like MaryAn Smith, Rufus Hathaway, Joshua Johnson, Ruth and Samuel Shute, and Erastus Salisbury Field distinguished themselves with their unique stylistic shortcuts, designed to imitate the patterns, textures, or shapes of clothing and other elements worn by or surrounding their subjects. By the middle of the 19th century, however, the growing availability of photography eliminated the demand for these imprecisely painted portraits.

Though landscapes and seascapes had been part of the folk painting vernacular since the late 1600s, they became most popular just as portraits were falling out of fashion. The earliest folk art landscapes generally presented a romantic, awe-inspiring view of nature, while later works documented specific times and places. Unsophisticated renditions by artists including Grandma Moses, Mattie Lou O’Kelley, Paul Seifert, Edward Hicks, Charles C. Hofman, and Fritz Vogt captured rural or city life as well as the wild outdoors. While most were executed in oil, the use of watercolors spread along with the expansion of female educational academies during the late 19th century, which used art as a method to "refine" young women.

Historical and religious folk art paintings generally depicted clearly recognizable scenes from America’s past or the Bible. Some painters included memorial depictions of  family members, presidents, or wartime heroes—George Washington was a popular subject. A highly decorative form of historical painting, the “Fraktur” style, presented spiritual themes, allegories, or family records alongside decorative motifs like hearts and doves, as well as verses in German script.

Still lifes, which showcased imagery of flowers, fruit, and animals, were a popular theme for paintings by amateur artists during the 19th century. These works were typically created using watercolors or oil paints on paper or cloth, sometimes with the assistance of stencil designs called “theorems.” Some still lifes involved a shimmering tinsel effect, created by reverse painting onto glass and then backing the work with crinkled foil, while others included scripted calligraphy and quotations.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Timeline of Art History

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Timeline of Art History

Travel around the world through art with this museums collection of over 6,000 works of art, from Egypt to North A… [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    

18thc Antique 1777 Folk Art Miniature Portrait Oil Painting On CopperEarly Primitive 19th C Original Oil Painting Dogs C: 1850 Folk Art New England Folk Art Witches Village Scene Painting, Harvest Moon Barn DanceVintage Abraham Lincoln Hand Carved, Solid Wood Portrait/bust Folk Art SculptureNew England Folk Art Mice Witches Tree House Wooden PaintingAntique 19thc Folk Art Theorem Painting On Velvet, Yellow Daisy Clematis FlowersVintage Mexican Retablo Folk Painting Wood Angel Taos Santera Lydia Garcia 1998On 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 GerardViolet Night Orig Framed Canvas Panel Painting Folk Houses 8 X 10 Karla GerardBeing A Bird Amongst Birds Nolan Outsider Raw Folk Art Brut Painting Naive Original Painting Farm Landscape 16x20 Acrylic Folk Art Country Nice Peaceful Original Painting Farm Landscape 16x20 Acrylic Folk Art God's CountryDollhouse Miniature Country Folk Art Framed Painting Rustic Rooster By K.manuelAntique 1913 Painted Silhouette Portrait Woman & Dog Unframed Folk ArtLovely Vintage Folk Art Theorem Painting In Sponge-painted Frame- Evelyn DanielsVntg Ornate Hand-carved Wood Frame Mexican Folk Art Feathercraft Bird PortraitVintage K Strohm Pennsylvania Folk Art Children Naive Oil/canvas Painting #1 YqzIt Won't Fly Original Abstract/folk/outsider? Painting J.swinton Canadian NrVintage K Strohm Pennsylvania Folk Art Children Naive Oil/canvas Painting #2 YqzFantastic Life-size 19th C Folk Art Portrait Of A Very Handsome Young ManLarge 18x12 Inch Drawing Nude Art Folk Charcoal Naked Painting 3 Women Pose 1892 Civil War Vet Folk Art Painting Union & Confederate Soldier In Battle VafoVintage Small Miniature Folk Art Theorem Pineapple Painting On Velvet McdonaldWee Forest Folk Wff Mouse Mice M-127 'family Portrait' 1985 Retired A. Petersen Swingers Original Abstract/nude/folk/outsider? Painting J.swinton Canadian NrRelish Framed Original Abstract/folk/outsider? Painting J.swinton Canadian Nr1924 Antique American Folk Art Primitive Country Cottage Landscape Oil PaintingVintage Signed Russian Folk Art Hand Painted Portrait Rounded Corner Pin BroochSet Of Antique Sheep Shears With Australian Folk Art Painting & Similar BowlChina Folk Collecton! Chinese Inside Painting Crane 4pc Snuff Bottles Byh29China Folk Collecton! Chinese Inside Painting Crane 4pc Snuff Bottles Byh29