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    

C 1899 Antique Folk Art Notre Dame Cathedral Gothic Hand Carved Wood Model YqzLg Vintage Old West Town Tailor Pair Of Scissors Wood Occupational Folk Art SignVintage Straight Razor 15cent Cut & Shave Barber Wood Occupational Folk Art Sign1800's Antique Millinery Carved Folk Art Wood Hat Head Form Phrenology MannequinGreat Antique Screwdriver Tool General Store Primitive Folk Art Wood Trade Sign C 1900 Antique Folk Art Primitive Stagecoach Painted Mustard Pine Wood Toy YqzGreat Antique Baltimore Fireman Wood Trade Sign Early Folk Art Original Paint Antique 19thc Spanish Colonial Saint Mary Carved & Painted Wood Folk Art SantosVintage Wood Folk Art Hand Carved Religious Statue Santos Saint Figure 19"19thc Antique Young Renaissance Lady Portrait Painting Old Wood Folk Art Frame Antique 1800's Wood Platform Pull Toy Horse , Primative.... Folk ArtAntique Folk Art Carved Wood Duck Head Cane/walking Stick-great Age & PatinaOld Primitive Hand Carved Wood Prisoner Original Black And White Paint Folk ArtRare Vintage Folk Art-carved Wood Figures Of Eskimo Hunting Walrus-artist SignedRare Early Black Americana1800 Era Primitive Folk Art Doll Painted Wood AntiqueAntique 40" Long American Folk Art Wood Ship Boat Original Paint Primitive ModelWood Tree Spirit, Carving, Americana, Native, American, Muzzleloader, Folk ArtWood Spirit Carving Forest Gnome Hobbit Knot Head Elf Wizard Sculpture Folk ArtOld Antique Folk Art Shore Bird Wood Carving Carved Primitive Knot Head FigurineCivil War Era Americana Folk Primitive Black Art Doll Wood Painted Antique Rare1800's Antique Vtg Folk Art 2 Door Wood Small Cabinet Curio Orig Green Paint! Antique Vintage Wood Carved Folk Art Cigar Store American Indian Chief SculptureOld Folk Art Handwork Collectable Superb Carved Man Wood Puppet Statue St4dn37Aafa 18th C Folk Art Carved Wood Figure Antique Santos Statue Original PaintCarved Vintage Folk Art Ammo Double Sided Painted Wood SignHand Carved Vintage Folk Art Canoe Shaped Wood Sign Marked "canoes" Wood Folk Art Hand Carved Redwood 6 1/4" Hitty Doll Miniature Dollhouse Antique Edwardian Era Primitive Wood Spice Cabinet Old 7-drawer Folk Art ChestFolk Art Carved Wood Whimsy Ball In Cage 5 Balls 2 Tiers Exceptional! OriginalWood Folk Art In A Bottle - A Lot Going On Inside Bottle - Signed 1951 Must SeeAntique Primitive Wood Folk Art Figurine Standing Fish Original Paint L348rAntique Folk Art Pirate Wood Doll Button Hook?Rare Antique Original Carved Wood And Oil Painted Ship Paintings Folk Art Artist Miniature Micro Bee Whirligig Wood Carved Folk Art Dollhouse Toy OoakAntique American Western Folk Art Carved Wood Bison Buffalo Match Safe Vintage Bosco's Headless Chicken Cbg13 Orignal 18x14 Wood Folk Art PaintingBig Vintage Folk Art Primitive Barn Red Wood Bird HouseGreat Vintage Folk Art Hand Carved Slide Toy-man And Bear Hammering WoodSonny Original Folk Outsider Art Sister Cows Painting On Wood PanelVintage Folk Art Hand Painted Dover Nj New Jersey Wood Arrowhead Campground SignJolly Fat Man Handmade Tree Spirit Wood Carving Folk Art Rustic Log Home DecorVintage Hand Carved Wood Donkey American Folk Art PrimitiveVintage Metal Eagle Table Lamp Light American Folk Art On A Wood BaseCobra - Unusual Carved Handmade Crafted Wooden Cane Walking Stick, Wood Folk ArtAntique Primitive Wood Folk Art Musical String InstrumentOriginal Tree Spirit Wood Carving Wizard Gnome Folk Art Rustic Log Home DecorVintage 4 Sets Russian Nesting Dolls Folk Art Wood Wooden Figures Toy MatryoshkaPine Wood Forest Face,tree Spirit,hobbit,elf,gnome,folk Art,sculpture,carving.Mystical Mountain Man Tree Spirit Wood Carving Folk Art Rustic Log Cabin DecorAwesome Attic Find! 1920's Primitive Folk Art Childs Wood Bi- AirplaneNice Jose Pinal (mexican Master Carver) Wood Folk Art Sculpture C.1940's German Tramp Art Box Antique Vtg 1902 Wood Wooden Old Ornate Decorated FolkEarly Folk Art Thumb Scoop Ca 1800s Hand Carved Wood Animal FigureSet Of 5 Menno Folk Art Wood Carved Usa Pig Milking Cow Rabbit Rooster Chicken Wood Spirit Carving Gnome Wizard Folk Art Magical Ooak By Gary Fantasy Knot Tree Spirit Wood Carving Folk Art Rustic Log Cabin Lodge Home DecorHeart Jewelry Wood Box Prison Art Toothpicks Velvet Tramp Folk Art Original Wooden Carved Native American Folk Art Bird (1968) Seminole, Cypress Wood, 20"Mask New Authentic Huichol Mexican Folk Art Yarn Painting On Wood CollectibleBig 41" Antique Folk Art Wood Mutt & Jeff Silent Butler Figure Sign Comic Vtg Nr