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    

Antique American Folk Art Hand Carved & Painted Wood Birds Nest Wall Hanging3 Antique Folk Art Canes, Carved Wood & Brass Dog Head & Canon Figural HandlesSmall Antique 19thc Folk Art Oil Painting, Winter Snow Children Wood Sled, NrPrimitive Folk Art Antique Carved Wood Woman Figure Early Paint Beautiful DetailAntique C1920s American Folk Art Painted Wood Egyptian Revival Butler StandAmazing Civil War Union Soldier Horseback Antique Folk Art Early Carved Wood Toy19thc Antique Maritime Folk Art Diorama, Packet Ship Salem, Wood Sails, NrAntique Victorian Type Wood Carved Figural Winged Angel Old Folk Art Wall StatueAntique 19th Century Wood & Iron Game Utensil Rack Folk Art Primitive Aafa Nr!Aafa Primitive Folk Art Apothecary Spice Wood Hanging Cabinet 6 DrawerColonial Era Tasmanian Huon Pine & Mixed Native Wood Basket 1800s Folk ArtAmazing Stack Of 5 Antique Miniature Painted Wood Boxes Early Primitive Folk ArtOoak, Face, Wood Tree Spirit, Carving, Folk Art, Mountain Man, Home DecorEstate- Lge Old Folk Art Naive Wood Carved Nude Woman C1930s As A Lamp 31" Vintage Black Americana Style Dancing Man Wood Carved Toy Folk Art JiggerOoak Halloween Folk Handpainted Wood Dummy Board Witch Mouse Black Cat CauldronEstate- Lge 20" Old Folk Art Naive Wood Carved Bust Of A Woman Circa 1930s Estate- Tall Old Folk Art Naive Wood Carved Nude Woman C1930s As A Lamp 31 InchEstate- Large 20" Old Folk Art Naive Wood Carved Bust Of A Woman Circa 1930s Antique Hand Carved Wood Folk Art Walking Stick / Cane € Old Mexican Carved Painted Wood Dance Mask :: Vintage Primitive Folk ArtVintage Wood Tramp Art Folk Art Hanging Wall Box 4 Drawers Primitive Green PaintOld Antique Chip Carved Wood Wooden Butter Mold Stamp Type W Folk Art ThistleWwi Antique Biplane Raf Army Air Corps Wood Metal Trench Art Folk Art Airplane1921 Early Antique Folk Art Wood Doll House Vintage Craftsman Sim GottschalkHand Painted Wood Candle Box Black Cat Witch Jol Wolf Raven Halloween Folk ArtAntique Folk Art Carved Wood Angel Santos Estate- Old Folk Art Hand Carved Wood Panel Female Nudes Naive C1930s 16" X 14"Wood Carved Folk Art Fall Pumpkin Wood Sculpture Lisa Rogers Original CarvingCool Large Folk Art Wood Carved Angel & Devil Outsider Oaxacan Finster No Resrv!1891 Antique Folk Art Carved Horse Farm Country Primitive Wood American DatedPrimitive Antique Aged Copper Roof & Wood Cupola Victorian Design 15" Folk Art Clint Alderman Georgia Folk Pottery Miniature Jug Kiln Mint Condition Wood FiredWood & Resin Springerle Cookie Mold ~flower~ Folk ArtRare Old Original Amusement Park Arcade Wood Trade Sign Vintage Antique Folk Art Rare Original Antique Folk Art Hand Carved Wood Saliors Wooden BuskAntique Primitive Tiger Pull Toy Solid Carved Wood On Wheels - Folk ArtSwedish Folk Art Hand Painted Dala Horse Wood Tray Sweden 12 New England Folk Art Witches Village Scene, Wood Frame Swedish Dala Horse Merry-go-round Carousel & 2 Folk Costumed Wood Dolls SwedenWood & Resin Springerle Cookie Mold ~ Heart ~ Folk ArtAntique Carved Wood American Folk Art Bulldog Or Pug Dog W/ Glass Eyes Hand Carved Pirate Ornament, Folk Art Wood Spirit (316), Americana, Antique Carved & Decorated Comb Hair Ornament Tribal Folk Art Wood & BambooVintage Germany Wood Cowboy Horse Springerle Butter Cookie Mold Folk ArtAntique Carved Comb Hair Ornament Tribal Folk Art Wood & BambooVintage Folk Art Hand Carved Animal Wood Bead Necklace - Long Stunning5 Antique Folk Art Primitive Handpainted Wood Jointed Farm Animals Cow Dog HorseVintage Black American Folk Art Hand Painted Wood Mammy Woman Key HolderVintage Pipe American Southern Folk Art Carved Wood Alligator Biting Monkey Early Primitive Antique Hand Carved Wood Pedestal Trivet Flower Design Folk ArtWalking Stick Cane Hiking Staff Folk Art Natural Wood Handle Carved Crafted WolfAntique Oval Copper Boiler W/ Lid & Wood Handles Moonshine Pot Tub Wash FolkVintage Black Forest Style Folk Art Wood Carving Bear LampVintage Naive Folk Art Carved Wood Dog FigureAntique Handmade Natural Carved Wood Cardinal Bird Folk Art Sculpture Signed VtgOoak Primitive Folk Art Wood Orange And Black Halloween "31" Shelf Sitter/signAntique / Vintage Wood Folk Art Organ Grinder Musical Box W/ Steiff MonkeyAntique Wood Coffee Grinder Rooster, Country Farms Painted Folk Art By JmdWood Spirit Log Home Gnome Cabin Elf Wall Art Carving Sculpture Folk Art Head