Since the Colonial era, wood has been a key medium for American artisans creating folk-art objects in their workshops and homes. From rocking horses to boxes, figurative sculptures to signs, wood has been a favorite of folk artists who, lacking training and supplies, often turned to this basic material because it was readily accessible and relatively inexpensive.

Wooden folk art is often associated with tramp art, an art form from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in which cut wood chips were layered on top of each other to create simple, geometric patterns. But wood has been used in many other ways by folk artists. For example, wood was the main ingredient in duck decoys, handmade cigar boxes, and weathervanes.

Prior to the settling of the Americas by Europeans, Native Americans made the first duck decoys out of mud. Early in the 18th century, though, wood became the dominant material in decoys, especially white pine and cedar, both of which were tough enough to take repeated use and buoyant enough to float. More than most wooden examples of folk art, the collectability of antique duck decoys depends on the craftsmanship, the intricacy of the carving, and, when known, the artist.

Early cigar boxes, which were commonly created in the tramp-art style, were largely made of cedar or mahogany. Though at the time they were often considered mere afterthoughts to the stogies inside, today they are widely collected.

Wooden weathervanes and whirligigs, which were put on the roofs of houses to indicate wind direction, date to the Colonial era. These delightful, carved pieces were initially constructed in simple shapes—arrows, for example. Later, the designs became more involved, as artists fashioned angels, ships, and whales that would point into the wind. After the Revolutionary War, these weathervanes were colorfully painted and their carving became ever more detailed. By the time of the Civil War, heroic weathervanes could be found on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line in the shapes of soldiers.

Whirligigs are slightly different than weathervanes in that they continually spin—hence their name—in the direction the wind is blowing. Some scholars believe that whirligigs were never actually used in the same practical way as weathervanes but were made as children’s toys. Today, though, whirligigs and weathervanes are strong emblems of the country-living aesthetic.

Folk art includes a vast range of collectibles, so naturally the spread of folk-art items made from wood is equally broad. In addition to items mentioned above, wooden folk art i...

Two other types of wood folk art are canes and dolls. Canes are prized for the skills of the whittler—a good one could give a cane exquisite detail, especially on the handle. Often these handles were carved in the shapes of animals, while the shafts were sometimes treated as canvases for landscapes and other scenes.

Artisans who made wooden dolls for their children usually did so because they could not afford store-bought or custom-made dolls. These dolls were often very simple, sometimes carved from sticks or even discarded bedposts. Once the dolls were carved to the artist’s satisfaction, they were often dressed in clothes made from tobacco leaves.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

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]

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    

Small Antique Handmade American Folk Art Painted Wood Magic Draw Bank NrAntique Folk Art Carved & Painted Wood, Architectural Accent Fragment, NrAntique Primitive Pa Folk Art ~ Kathy Graybill Painted Wood Hinged Box Signd YqzAntique 19thc Folk Art Primitive Wood Acorn Butter Print Stamp Nice Patina 2 YqzAntique Jointed Doll Signed 1910 By Artist Wood Folk Art Carved Rare MannequinFun C 1950 Vintage Folk Art Caution Nude Crossing Wood Sign W/peephole YqzAntique Norwegian Folk Art Carved Birch Wood Dip Pen - Acanthus Leaves & Nisse Great Antique Folk Tramp Art Carved Wood Picture Frame High Relief Silver AcornsVintage Fred Cutts Pa Folk Art "common Puffins" Carved Wood Sculpture Signed Yqz(10) Vintage Folk Art, Carved Bone & Wood, Inuit Hunting SpearsVintage Farmer Donkey Mule Wood Metal Folk Art Wind Whirligig Antique MechanicalVintage Maryland Folk Art "bald American Eagles" Carved Wood Bird Sculpture YqzCarved & Painted Old Americana Folk Art Wood Howling Wolf FigureFolk Sailor Art: Wood Nautical Cigar Holder, Us Navy Spanish American War Ship 1920s-1930s Folk Art Carved Wood Plaque Of Canada Geese19thc Antique Primitive Folk Art Victorian Era Game Board Wood Carved Chess SetAntique Vintage Nutcracker ~ Carved Wood Figural Lab Dog Head ~ Folk Art ~Primitive Uncle Sam Patriotic 4th Of July Memorial Day Wood Fabric Folk Art DollAntique 1870's Victorian Folk Art Wood Carved Egg Thimble Sewing Case Box 2"+ NrBig Antique Folk Art Hand Carved Wood Bi-plane Toy Airplane W/ Pilot Model YqzWood Tree Spirit Carving Log Home Gnome Cabin Folk Art Decor Forest SculptureWood Spirit Carving Sculpture Tree Hobbit Gnome Elf Forest Face Wizard Folk ArtVintage Hand Made Wood Carved Cane / Walking Stick - Wooden Folk Art Staff Vintage Mexican Folk Art / Carvings / Wood Carvings / Religious Icons / Virgin Vintage Tiki Bar Wall Folk Art Tribal Masks Witco Shag Enchanted Handmade WoodAntique Spanish Wood Carved Coat Of Arms Knight Armor & Shield Folk Art PlaqueVintage Large Carved Wood Wooden Whale Wall Art Nautical Folk Art *doweled TeethVintage Folk Art Wood Carving - Black Americana ManRare Ooak Wood Backgammon Board Native American Indian Design Folk Art KachinaWood Spirit Carving Folk Art Sculpture Art Muzzle Loader Native American IndianMinnie Adkins Wood Carved 'sheep' ......outsider Folk ArtWood Knot Head Wizard Tree Spirit Forest Gnome Elf Folk Art Carving SculptureVintage Hand Carved Wood Sperm Whale Folk Art FigureVintage Wolf Creek Wood Carved Folk Art Sculpture Signed DatedPrimitive Folk Art Mirror 1800s Wood Original Blue Paint Half Moon Top Patina NrVintage Folk Art Wood Figures Hand Painted Birds Wire Feet Lot 12 Asst. ColorsMinnie Adkins Wood Carved 'pig' ......outsider Folk ArtVintage Hand Carved Wood Skiing Man Sculpture Figurine- Folk ArtVintage Balsa Wood Cars Racer 1950s Jeep Kits Complete Folk Art Toy Model Tramp/folk Art Wood Church Bird House - Signed Estate Find 9" Vintage Wooden Rocking Horse Folk Art Home Decor Brown Wood Carved Retro6.5" Swedish Dala Horse Folk Art Wood Carving Grannas A. OlssonsVintage Doll Desk Or Dresser Folk Art Painted WoodWood Folk Art House Crackle Paint Weather Vane 21"l Red Roof Stable Pillar OoakC1920 Primitive American Folk Art Carved Wood Bluebill Glass Eyes MichiganC.1944 Wood Scotty Scottie Dog Terrier Brooch Vintage Folk Art Pin Carved WoodenVintage Balsa Wood Planes Military Bomber Folk Art Toy Model Hand Made CarvingFolk Chinese Wood Wooden Handwork Carved Cicada Tree Brush Pot Pen ContainerChina Old Folk Art Collectible Hand Carved General Yuefei Wood Statue St51b05Hand Carved Wood Cane Walking Stick Alligator Crocodile Handle Vintage Folk ArtCanadian Folk Art, Wood Hand Carved Pig By Quebec Farmer 1980'sWeird Mexican Or S.american Folk Art Ornate Metals On Wood - Titled El Milagro3 Vintage Swedish Dala Rooster Set Lot Black Red Wood Carving Folk Art PaintVintage Folk Art Rectangular Wood Box Painted Gold With "leaping Frogs"Large Vintage Antique Wooden Dough Bowl-primitive Turned Wood-folk Art-early RimHand-carved And Signed Wood Santa Claus Figurine 12" Keith Collis Folk ArtistLarge 20" Rooster Carved Wood Shelf Sitter Rustic Folk Art Jointed Chicken1945 Wood Skunk Brooch Folk Art Animal Wooden Vintage Pin Painted Estate JewelryMid 20th Century Carved Wood Pennsylvania Folk Art Bird From CollectorAfrican Tribal Folk Art Wood Hand Carved Figurine Statue Sculpture Colonist