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    

1825 Antique 19thc Eliza Wood Folk Art Embroidery School Girl Sampler NrVintage Folk Art Inlay Star Pattern Wood Quilt Parquetry Wall HangingHand Carved And Painted Americana Federal Folk Art Bellamy Style Wood EagleVintage Italy ? Hand Carved Wood 5 Fawn / Deer Figurines Folk Art Anri ? V.fine Large Signed Leo Gervais Quebec Canada Folk Art Muskox Sheep Wood CarvingAntique Wood Carving Cat Inkwell Pen Tray Glass Eyes All Original Folk Art DecorVtg Sarreid Italy Carved Wood Tortoiseshell Cat Sculpture Folk Art PrimitiveAntique Folk Art Carved Wood Alligator PipeAntique Alligator Cane Hand Carved Wood Folk Art Walking Stick Nice PatinaAntique Folk Art Carved Wood Butterflies & Moonrise Silver Gilt Frame Moon PrintVtg 50s-60s Michigan Prison•prisoner Folk Art•wood Stagecoach Model•see Details!Vintage Folk Art Oil Painting Of Young Girl W Doll + Cat On Wood Door Panel13 Antique Paul-emile Caron Canadian Folk Art Wood Carving Carved FiguresAntique Primitive American Folk Art Hand Carved Wood Large Hunting Dog Paint NrScarce Antique 19th C Pair (2) Composition & Wood Folk Art Seated Figures #1 YqzTree Spirit,folk Art ,cabin Decor, Tree Spirit,wood Spirits ,blooming Idiot2 Vtg Folk Art Primitve Wood Crescent Moon Face Stairway Shelf Wall DisplayOoak, Wood Tree Spirit, Carving, Folk Art, Pixie, Female6" Natural Swedish Dala Horse Folk Art Wood Carving By Nils Olsson SignedAntique 1920s Folk Art Painted Wood Orientalist Genie Man Butler Smoke StandAntique Folk Art Primitive Carved Mahogany Wood Rooster Chicken Sculpture Nr YqzAntique Carved Wood Rabbit Bowl Centerpiece Wooden Primitive Folk Art Original Hand Carved Wood Falcon Krestrel Bird Folk Art Glass Eyes SignedPrimitive Folk Art Carved Wood Hand Painted East Coast Style Bufflehead DuckSonny Molina Folk Art Lures - Mouse-bass- Duck -dove With Wood BoxKnot Head Hobbit Tree Gnome Wood Spirit Forest Face Carving Folk Art SculptureAntique Figural Wood Boot Shoe Store Front Sign Old Paint Folk Art Vintage Ohio 5" Swedish Dala Horse "gamle Svarten" Folk Art Wood Carving Nils Olsson - SignedLarge Vtg Ouro Don Quixote Wood Carving Folk Art Statue*~*primitive*~* Hp Folk Art Prim Ball Jar With Flowers *~* Old Reclaimed WoodVintage Folk Art Wood Carved Eagle On Drift Wood Sculpture Artist Signed & DatedSonny Molina Folk Art Lures - Cardinal With Wood BoxSonny Molina Folk Art Lures - Turtle With Wood BoxFolk Art Oil On Wood Panel Primitive Compote Of Fruit Still Life Painting Nr YqzAntique Primitive 13.5" Wooden Bowl Wood Old Green Paint Folk Art Aafa Nr Nice!Wood Spirit Carving Tree Gnome Log Home Cabin Carved Folk Art SculptureFolk Art Vintage Carved Wood Whale Cape AnnMexican Folk Art Nativity Wood Carved Colorful Orig Jim Popso Pennsylvania Folk Art Wood Carving Bethlehem Steel Co Cart Nr YqzVtg 1950's Andre Bourgault Quebec Man Woman Wood Carvings Folk Art Collectible Vintage Wood Wooden Carved Man Donkey Mexican Ashtray Mexico Souvenir Folk ArtSet Of 6 Hand Carved Wood Animals Kenya Africa Drinking Party Funny Folk ArtVtg Arthur Court Carved Wood Folk Art Owl Jar 1980 Unique!Vintage Wood Handle Crooked Knife Old Wood Animal Effigy Handle Folk Art Original Primitive Folk Art Painting Daisies In Ball Jar On Reclaimed Wood BarnVintage Folk Art Hand Carved Wood Old Man With Book Figurine Anri ? Vintage - Folk Art Primitive Wood Checkerboard - Painted - Squirrels & AcornsVintage Primitive Ware Folk Hand Carved Wood Trencher Dough BowlAntique/vintage Folk Tramp Art Primitive Pine Wood Game Chess Checkers Board6.5" Red/orange Swedish Dala Rooster Folk Art Wood Carving - Grannas A . Olssons2 Vintage Hand Made Wood Folk Art Fishing Lures ~7" Primitive Sporting GoodsCarved Wood Figure Female Figurehead Wall Sculpture Indonesia Maritime Folk Art5 Primitive Folk Art Wood Houses Barn Church Village Shelf Sitter HandmadeAntique Vintage Wood Wall Hanging Match Safe Holder Aqua Daisy Folk Art PaintedVintage Handmade Red/orange Dala Painted Wood Rooster Swedish Folk Art Carving Aafa Signed & Dated Folk Art Wood Mangle Board Paint Decorated Smoothing Board3 Vintage Russian Folk Art Bear Hand Carved Wood Figure 6 1/4" W/bird HouseAntique/ Vintage 40's Original Holgate Painted Wood Folk Art Ring Stacking Game Unique! Antique Folk Art Hand Painted Wood Meerkat Figural Push/walking Toy YqzVintage Folk Art Hand Carved Wood Old Man W/ Walking Cane Figurine Anri ? As-is