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,early,folk Art,wood Dolls,handmade,need A Home Imperfect Lot!Vintage Hand Carved Wood, Folk Art American Eagle & Shield, No Reserve!Antique 19thc American Folk Art Hand Carved Wood Pine Board Tramp Mirror EaglesAntique Primitive Wood Snow Sled Old Paint Folk ArtCarved Tree Forest Face Wood Spirit Sculpture Knot Head Gnome Carving Folk ArtArne Tjomsland - Wood Buffalo/bison/musk Ox -norwegian Folk Art- 1950sVintage Carved Wood Graduated Dala Horse X 5 Nils Olsson Nusnas Sweden Folk Art Tree Forest Face Wood Spirit Carving Log Home Cabin Sculpture Knot Head Folk ArtAntique Vtg Original Painted Wood Folk Art Circus Carnival Ring Toss Game Rope Vintage Folk Art Bird Wood Fishing LureSwedish Carving - Lady With Basket - Gunnarsson - 1949 - Wood Carved Folk ArtZebra Oaxacan Handmade Wood Carving - Angel Ramirez - Mexican Folk ArtVintage Unknown Folk Art Abalone Pearl Spinner Wood Fishing LureAntique 14" Wood Santa Claus Jointed Doll All Original Christmas Folk Art VtgWood Spirit Tree Gnome Carving Forest Face Hobbit Elf Wizard Knot Head Folk ArtVintage Folk Art Unknown Wood Musky Fishing LureVtg Wood Carvings Hand Carved Figurine Old Man On Stool Reading Book Folk Art 5"Vintage Folk Art Handmade Unknown Wood Musky Fishing LureScandinavian Painted Wood Vintage Christmas Knome Candle Holder Swedish Folk Art*~*primitive*~* Hp Folk Art Prim Snowmen Family *~* Winter *~*old Reclaimed WoodPrimitive Vintage Christmas Santa Doll Hand Carved Wood Folk Art Signed DatedVtg Hand Painted Folk Art Russian Dresser Trinket Box In Wood W/ TroikaVintage 25.5cm Carved Wood Dala Horse Nils Olsson - Nusnas Sweden Folk Art 1930's-1940's Superman Wood Burning Folk Art Vintage And OriginalAafa Folk Art Doll Primitive Jointed Carved Treen Vintage Antique Figure WoodNorwegian Henning Wood Carving - Troll Smoking Pipe - Carved Folk Art - NorwayAntique Black Forest Carved Wood Cross Folk Art Crucifix Silver Corpus Leaf 14"*~*primitive*~* Hp Folk Art Prim Snowmen *~* Sled *~* Old Reclaimed WoodAntique Hand Carved Wood , Bone, Bisque Figure Folk Art Christmas 1905*~*primitive*~* Hp Folk Art Snowmen * Crow * Winter *~* Reclaimed Red Barn WoodVintage Set Of 4 Wood Springerle Cookie Molds Wood Carved Folk Art - No Reserve!Small Antique Primitive Shaker Folk Art Wood Firkin Sugar Bucket With LidFolk Art Painting Acrylic On Wood "make America Great Again "Folk Art Painting Acrylic On Wood "sunglasses At Night"Folk Art Carved Ball In Cage Whimsey Whimseys WoodChinese Folk Red Wood Carve Beauty Belle Girl Statue Sculpture Art Decoration L6Vintage Hand Carved Wood Figurine Minstrel With Accordion Folk Art.Vintage Carved Wood 17cm Red Dala Horse Nils Olsson Nusnas Sweden Folk Art Vintage Folk Art Wag-tail Jointed Wood Minnow Fishing Lure PairWood/resin Speculaas Springerle Cookie Mold Lapland Reindeer Folk Art ChristmasAfrican Style Hand Carved Wood Folk Art Cane Walking Stick Wolf Vintage?Quebec Folk Art Wood Carved Squirrel W/ Pottery AshtrayPaige Koosed 1988 Signed Carved Wood Folk Art Santa Claus 10.5"Maine Primitive Rustic Wood Box Marked Sanford Maine Folk Art Bird Wood CrateVtg Wood Fishing Lure Folk Art !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Chinese Folk Wood Carving Beautiful Woman Belle Beauty Statue L342012 Anima Sola Wood Carving Jose Orta Rivera Ponce Pr Folk Art Catholic ChristFolk Art Painting Acrylic On Wood "zero Moustafa"Folk Art Painting Acrylic On Wood Amazing Wood Carved Wooden Santa Claus Sculpture Folk Art ?? Maker Figurine2014 Saint Sebastian Wood Carving Jose Orta Rivera Ponce Pr Folk Art ChristianHand Carved Wood Figure Daniel Boone Trapper Folk Art Old German Pretzl Pathologist Doctor Folk Art Wood CarvingVintage Folk Art Primitive Hand Painted On Old Barn Wood White Horse. 12" X 14.5Huge! Antique Primitive Shaker Folk Wood Firkin Sugar Bucket With LidVintage Folk Art Signed Rw Hand Carved Santa Claus Christmas Wood Pin BroochLarge Devil W' Horns Carved/painted Wood Folk Art MaskMac Proffitt Hand Carved Wood Santa Claus Folk Art Figurine Wood Spirit Carving Gnome Wizard Folk Art Pine Knot Elf Forest Ooak By Gary Wood Spirit Carving Gnome Wizard Folk Art Pine Knot Elf Forest Ooak By Gary