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    

19thc Antique Carved & Painted Wood Spanish Colonial Monk Saint Folk Art SantosAntique Folk Art Carved Wood Wedding Dulcimer Three String Musical Instrument Antique Carved Wood Treen Sailmakers Seam Rubber - Sailor Folk Art - MaritimeCarl Forslund Hand Carved Wood Bird Audubon Folk Art Hunting Cabin Dcor Antique C. 1930s 40s Folk Art Disney Mickey Mouse Wood Painted Figure Vafo8 Vtg Erzgebirge German Folk Art Wood Carved Band Musician Figures 2 1/2"Vintage Nantucket Basket Mold Beautiful Folk Art Made Wood Mold With InlaysVintage Abraham Lincoln Hand Carved, Solid Wood Portrait/bust Folk Art SculptureAntique Wood Airplane Gyro Plane Folk ArtRare Antique/primitive Wood Hand-carved/painted Mexican Folk Bearded Helmet MaskAntique Primitive Folk Art Wood Farm Milking Stool Orig. Pa Dutch? Chippy PaintHand Carved Wood Eagle Statue Figurine Bird Folk Art Sculpture Vintage LargeSet Of 3 Swedish Dala Horse Folk Art Wood Carving Nils Olsson W/ TagKinetic Wood Steel Iron Kinetic Horse Sculpture Folk Art Hand CarvedAntique Painted Carved Wood 4 Rams Sheep Candle Holder Folk Art PrimitiveAntique 19thc Greek, Saint Demetrios, Folk Art Icon, Wood Oil Painting, NrAntique 19th C Primitive Turned Ochre Swirl Painted Maple Wood Bowl Folk Art YqzOld Paint Original Primitive ''church'' Wood Sign Vintage Antique Folk Art AafaTree Wood Spirit Forest Hobbit New Carving In Old Knot Head Folk Art SculptureAntique Primitive 11.5" Wooden Dough Bowl Wood Old Blue Paint Folk Art Aafa NrVtg Mid Century Wood Block Mono Rail Train Cars People Folk Art Toys *~*primitive*~* Hp Folk Art Prim Yellow Ware Bowl * Pumpkins *~* Reclaimed WoodVtg Erotic Wooden Folk Art Statue Wood Whimsical Puppet X Rated NoveltyNancy Thomas 1993 Folk Art Primitive Wood Wooden Angel Heart Checkerboard SignedVintage Miniature Norway Svepask Swedish Tine Bent Wood Folk Art Box SignedHand Wood Carved Owl On An Letter Opener Folk Art*~*primitive*~* Hp Folk Art Prim Pail Of Flowers *~* Old Reclaimed WoodOoak, Wood Tree Spirit, Carving, Folk Art, Cabin Art, Home DecorNew England Folk Art Mouse Kitchen Witch On Wood Barn Board Painting*~*primitive*~* Hp Folk Art Prim Spotted Pig *~* Old Reclaimed WoodOld Antique Folk Art Childs Toy Wagon Wood Farm Vintage Wooden Chain Rare Carved Wood Folk Art Sculpture Carving 39 Miniature Quebec Primitive Folk Art Wood Carving Bird Art Hummingbird CanadaRare Wolf Creek Wood Carved Circus "stella" Rope Hanger Original Folk Art Pink Poppys ~original Texas Folk Art Outsider Painting ~wood Panel ~sonnyAntique Vintage Folk Art Carved Wood Hanging BoardVtg Lot Of Mid Century Wood Block Farm Animals Folk Art Toys Vtg Lot Of Mid Century Wood Block Zoo Animals Folk Art Toys *~*primitive*~* Hp Folk Art White Pumpkin * Crow * Harvest*~* Old Reclaimed WoodCoyote Oaxacan Alebrije Wood Carving Painting Mexican Folk Art Animal On BoxAntique Hand Carved & Painted Folk Art Jointed Wood Penny Doll No ReserveVtg Handmade Carving Carved Wood Cage Balls Whittled Ball In Cage Folk ArtVtg Folk Art Wood German Village In Bag Putz Church Trees Animals Vntg Ornate Hand-carved Wood Frame Mexican Folk Art Feathercraft Bird PortraitLot (29) Vtg German Wood Miniature Folk Art Animals Music Soldier Toy Figures +Vintage Hand Carved & Painted Wood Horse Marionette Puppet Jointed Folk ArtVintage Carved Wood Primitive Folk Art Victorian Shoe Trinket BoxMexican Wood Bowl Hand Painted Folk Art 1950's Floral MotifAntique Primitive Figural Folk Art Carved Wood Table/stand- African,ebony,islandPair Alaska Eskimo Native Dolls Wood & Plastic Folk Art Leather Fur Vintage Owl Clay Pottery Folk Art Ceramic Wood Wall Hanging Mid CenturyVictorian Old Farm House Folk Art Handpainted Toleware Wood Sewing Trinket Box Vintage Folk Art Wall 2 Drawer Cravered Acorn Leafs Wood Hanging Cabinet SeeFolk Art Wood Cat Painted Basket Box Smiling Cheshire Primitive Black*~*primitive*~*hp Folk Art Prim Apples * Reclaimed Red Barn WoodFolk Art Wooden Dogs Hand Carved From WoodHot 1/6 Figure Model Original Wood Color Folk Guitar Musical Instrument Old Primitive Antique Large Wood Ladle Spoon Americana Folk Art Farmhouse Aafa Vintage Mushroom Painting On Wood Board 1960's Folk Art Unusual RareFolk Art Beautiful Hand Carved Marbled Wood Cup