Other Forms of Folk Art

Another form of folk art was fraktur, a style of ornate illustration and lettering derived from European illuminated manuscripts. Ministers, schoolmasters, and itinerant penmen in Pennsylvanian German communities produced fraktur work for prayer and hymnbooks and primers for schoolchildren. Individuals also commissioned them to create ornamental family registers, certificates of birth, baptism, confirmation, marriage, and death, valentines, and bookplates. As developed in America, fraktur art was rendered in bold designs and bright colors and incorporated various motifs, including tulips, symbolic of the Trinity, unicorns, representative of virginity, hearts for love and marriage, and such traditional heraldic symbols as lions and crowns. Gravestones are considered an early form of American folk sculpture. While the idea was not to portray eternal damnation, but the release of the spirit to eternal peace, the symbols most commonly carved onto gravestones included winged skulls, hourglasses with the sands of time running out, and fireand scythe-bearing skeletons. Other common gravestone images included winged cherubs’ heads or angels. Weathervanes were popularly produced due to farmers’ and shippers’ need to keep an eye on the weather. Designs for weathervanes often represented local surroundings: horses, pigs, and cows in rural areas; whales, fish, mermaids, and ships in coastal towns. Several excellent examples of weathervanes, created by the Deacon Shem Drowne, a famous Massachusetts weathervane maker, still survive in Boston. They include a metal rooster, the Blew Ball and Banner, the copper grasshopper vane atop Faneuil Hall, and a vane depicting a Native American. Prosperous colonists also decorated their homes with carved and painted furniture. By the eighteenth century, almost all American furniture produced in the countryside was painted, either to hide the fact that it was constructed from inexpensive or several different types of wood or to simulate carving. Craftsmen painted pieces in one or several colors and then ornamented them with painted designs, stenciling, gold leaf, or bronze paint. Similar techniques also were applied to other items, including furniture and toys made for children, decorative carvings, and various kinds of signage. Painted chests were particularly popular. Guilford chests, produced in and around Guilford, Connecticut, were constructed from tulipwood and had a decorated front panel over one decorated drawer and decorated side panels. The Pennsylvania Germans were renowned for the dower chest, a carved, painted wooden chest given to a girl when she reached marriageable age or at the time of her engagement. The front of the chest displayed the girl’s name and the date the chest was presented, along with brightly colored unicorns, hearts, a tree-of-life, or the bride and groom in wedding clothing. Tables, wardrobes, cupboards, and other pieces of furniture adorned with tulips, birds, doves, hearts, and trees also were painted in vivid red, green, blue, and black. These brilliant pieces surely livened up colonial farmhouses and in-town homes. Marjorie L. Hilton See also: Art, Cartoons, and Broadsides; Artisans. Bibliography Bishop, Robert, and Jacqueline Marx Atkins. Folk Art in American Life. New York: Viking Studio, 1995. Folk Art in America: A Living Tradition. Atlanta, GA: High Museum of Art, 1974. Lipman, Jean. American Folk Decoration. New York: Oxford University Press, 1951. Lipman, Jean, Robert Bishop, Elizabeth V. Warren, and Sharon L. Eisenstat. Five Star Folk Art: One Hundred American Masterpieces. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990. Lipman, Jean, and Alice Winchester. The Flowering of American Folk Art, 1776 1876. Philadelphia: Courage, 1997. Ward, Gerald W. R., Abaigeal Duda, Pamela A. Parmal, Sue Welsh Reed, Gilian Ford Shallcross, and Carol Troye. American Folk. Boston: MFA Publications, 2001.
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