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    

5 Antique American Folk Art Carved & Painted Wood, Working Duck Decoys, NrEarly Antique 18th/19thc Folk Art Icon Oil Painting, Wood Panel, No Reserve!Antique Silver Snake Figural Knotty Walking Stick Old Folk Art Wood Carved CaneAntique Frank Fahringer American Folk Art Tiger Maple Wood Carving Matchsafe BoyAntique George Washington President Warren G Harding Wood Carved Folk Art CaneAntique 1930s Black Americana Folk Art Painted Wood Butler Smoke Stand NrWood Tree Spirit Sculpture Log Home Gnome Cabin Carving Folk Art Knot HeadNautical Antique, American, Folk-art, Wood Carved, Sperm Whale SculptureOoak, 9 New England Folk Art Witches Hand Painted On Vintage Wood Firkin BucketNice Civil War Veterans Relic Gettysburg Folk Art Cane Wood From Round Top Handmade Primitive Scarecrow Vintage Wood Bobbin Doll Fall Folk ArtHalloween Wood Dummy Board Black Cat Owl Witch Folk Handpainted By D.dellingerEarly 20thc Antique American Folk Art Painted Wood Bellhop Butler Smoke StandAntique Black Americana Folk Art Butler Smoke Stand, Carved & Painted WoodAntique Jiggs Comic Character American Folk Art Wood Butler Smoke Stand, NrAntique Dala Horse, Old Wood Folk Art, 4", Hand-carved & Painted, Mora, 1930'sSuper Antique Tramp Art Wood Picture Frame Folk Primitive Ecclesiastical LookVintage Folk Art Kuna Indians Figure Nuchu Healing Carved Wood Very Old NiceAntique 20thc Black Americana Folk Art Painted Wood Butler Smoke Stand NrVery Large Vintage Black Forest Swiss Folk Wood Carving Hunter & Dog 1900sAntique American Folk Art Wood Butler Smoke Stand Andy Gump Comic CharacterAntique Folk Art Carved & Painted Wood Butler Smoke Smoking Stand NrAntique Early 20thc American Folk Art Painted Wood Butler Smoke Stand NrVtg Huichol Indian Mexican Glass Beaded Wood Folk Art Deer Statue Figurine NrVintage Russian Painted Lacquer Papier Mache Artist Signed Wood Jewlery Folk BoxGreat Antique Folk Art Flying Bird Of Pray-hand Carved WoodVtg Rare Black Forest Red Fox Glass Eyes Hand Carved Wood Sitting Fox Folk Art4 Lot Antique Mexican Folk Art Wood Carving & Primitive Walking Stick Cane YqzAafa Primitive Folk Art Vintage Wood Dollhouse With Light - Handmade?Antique American Folk Art Painted & Carved Wood Red Man Butler Smoke Stand NrSigned Francisco Fabian Oaxaca Mexico Wood Carved Folk Art Ram Goat Figurine NrAntique 19thc Tribal Folk Art Carved Wood Walking Stick - African Oceanic Staff1940's Folk Art Wood Submarine Wind-up Clockwork 25" -- Super CoolChristmas Wood Shelf Sitter Cat Kitten Angel Folk Handpainted By D.dellingerC1860s Primitive Folk Art American Miniature Dollhouse Cabinet Wood Handmade8" Swedish Dala Carved Wood Horse Folk Art Nils Olsson Ethnic Wood GrainRussian Folk Art Santa Wood Figure Christmas Decoration Hand Painted SignedVintage Hand Carved Wood Folk Art Dog Nutcracker Scotty Scottish Terrier Antique Late 1800's Miniature Pine Primitive Wood Foot Stool Bench Folk Art YqzAntique 1866 Primitive Wood ~butter Mold~ Tree Leaf Pattern Folk ArtPrimitive Folk Art Carved Wood Bust Head Old Man Antique Aafa Vintage CountrySmall Antique Folk Art Painted Wood Orientalist Turkish Man Butler Smoke StandPrimitive Folk Art Fall Wood Sign..leaves Pumpkins Vintage 3cm Swedish Dala Horse White Folk Art Wood Carving Grannas A. OlssonsFolk Art Wood Carving / Three Kings / Caban /santo / Puerto RicoAmerican Folk Art Horse Hand Carved Wood Primitive Sculpture Antique/vintage ToyVintage Dollhouse Doll Farm Animals Wooden Wood Folk Art 1930s Toy Antique 20s Pair Of Vintage Mexico Folk Art Carved Wood AnimalsAntique Mexican Folk Art Hand Carved & Painted Man Wood Mask Nr3 Vtg Primitive Hard Wood Shore Bird Carvings Decoys Jamaican Folk Art Nr #4 YqzVintage American Folk Art Painted Wood 30in Tall Butler Smoke Stand Ashtray, NrRare Signed Ouro Spanish Folk Art Carved Wood Don Quixote Figure 21 1/2"Vintage Folk Art Carved Wood Primitive Man W/sailor Hat Smoke Pipe Figural German Erzgebirge Wood Putz Farm Yard Folk Art In Shaker Style Bentwood BoxAntique 19thc American Folk Art Carved Woman W Braided Hair Wood Walking StickEarly 20thc Folk Art Village Scene Hand Carved Wood Panel W Old Paint Vintage Attic Find Primitive Painted Folk Art Wood Checker Board 1940's-50's??Vtg Mexico Carved Wood Walking Stick Cane Antique Folk Art Eagle / Snake Vintage Southern African Black Man Folk Art Wood Carving AlabamaPrimitive Folk Art Wood Sign Borax Dry Soap Washing Powder Wood Sign