You can pay anything for anything these days.

here’s a really old picture of me.

It’s 4:30 pm April 20, 2018, and I am declaring it spring.  I just had to run out to my friends place on the edge of town to deliver a painting I had cleaned for them, and when I got out of the car, I thought,  “Hallelujah. at last, it’s spring.  What a long wait it has been for us here in south-west Ontario this year.  But it’s like being beaten over the head with a two by four, it feels so good once it’s over. I point this out to say it took a lot of will power to reject the offer of a beer and sitting on the porch for a spell for me to write this,  but I met a guy at the market last week who pointed out he noticed I was getting a bit irregular in writing every Friday as I was until recently, and he gently encouraged me to get with it.  It doesn’t take much to make me feel guilty apparently.  But what does this have to do with economics you ask.  Well nothing, but the arrival of spring could not go without comment.

What got me to thinking about economics this week is a new pair of blue jeans I bought at Costco.   I buy clothes only when necessary which at my age is rarely.  I’ve got a lot of clothes and not many occasions when I need to dress up,  plus I am not much of a shopper.  Anyway, seventeen bucks.  I got a really nicely made jeans of quality fabric that fit me and look good for less than the price of a coffee and a snack at Starbucks. I also had the occasion that day to be in the Bay and I saw some designer jeans for about $240.  I didn’t like the fancy stitching on the back pockets but I suppose it was there so people knew you hadn’t bought your jeans at Costco for seventeen bucks, and that’s fine with me. I’m not going to diss anybody for wanting to make a statement with their clothes, if that’s what makes you feel better.  It just doesn’t do anything for me.  I also know that if I looked around I could probably find a pair of jeans for $5, but if you want them to last you’re better off to spend a little more.   My point is you can spend $15 or you can spend $245, or more for a pair of men’s jeans. You can pay anything for anything these days

Next example.  We were at our daughter’s house and over breakfast she said to her husband “when you go out to get the groceries I would like you to go to a hardware store and get a new drip coffee maker.” This was the direct result of having to listen to me once more mutter under my breath when I tried to pour myself a cup of coffee and inevitably, no matter how hard you tried, the stupid spout of the carafe was so tiny that you ended up spilling all over the counter.  That, and the fact that it no longer had a lid and she doesn’t like the smell of coffee.  I find this hard to relate to because I love the smell of coffee, but I did agree with her that the spilling thing was a pain in the ass.  Of course it is not in my nature to replace anything that still works so I objected. I would have put up with that stupid carafe until the thing died a natural death.   Also, the fact is that neither of them drink coffee so the coffee maker is just there for us or other coffee drinking guests so is rarely used.  But she showed great determination so I headed out with my son in law, figuring that I would jump in at the last minute and buy the device as a hostess gift. As it turns out he wouldn’t let me do this but I digress. We went first to the local Loblaws for the groceries on our list, and low and behold, there in the middle isle was a very nice little coffee maker on sale for $22.   Amazing.  It has a spout that pours, a lid, a cleanable filter so you don’t have to  buy and dispose the paper filters, and I can tell it makes a much better cup of coffee than the old one.  I think I may have learned something from the experience. Spending $22 to not have to wipe up spilled coffee is a good move.  When I got home and looked at the Canadian Tire catalogue I noticed you can spend anywhere from $12 to about $350 for a drip coffee maker.  You can pay anything, for anything these days.

This seems to be the case for most items these days thanks to diverse world economics, and the modernization of manufacturing, and I think it’s a pretty good thing overall.   The frugal or poor can buy pretty good things for not much money, and the wealthy have an ever increasing selection to choose from.  However, I think it also makes people suspicious of their understanding of the monetary value of things.

This has always been an issue that antique and art dealers have had to deal with.  When you are asking $350 for a  100 year old rocking chair, there is no price in a catalogue to refer to.  There is just your knowledge of antiquity and markets which the buyer either believes in or not.  I believe that a lot of established, knowledgeable dealers do a good and fair job of pricing, but it is also the case with the way the markets are now that you see prices all over the place.  Recently, a painting by a folk artist that I represented for years sold at auction for $870.  I sold that painting in my shop for $495, and I know of other auctions were similar paintings by the same artist have sold for less than $100.

I once overheard a couple of old time dealers haggling over the price of a chair.  “Well I agree that it is a very nice chair in original paint and great condition but why is it priced at $600.” The other guy looked him strait in the face and said “because I paid $5 for it”.  Ha. They both laughed, and the questioning fellow knew that his negotiation technique was failing but you get the point.  You can pay anything, for anything these days. He may have only had to pay $5 but his knowledge of antiques made him realize it was worth much more. I think this is the basic appeal behind the business. It’s a treasure hunt.  That, and a love for the stuff.  You need that too, or you will never be able to make a go of it.

And don’t get me started on how this affects you when you are trying to do a decent job of appraising items for fair market value.  That’s a topic for another day. I’ve gone on long enough. It’s sunny on the porch and I am dying to go out there and have a beer.  I’m not a big beer drinker mind you.  Don’t touch the stuff all winter, and really don’t drink much in the summer, but on the first day of spring, who would deny me?  Happy spring everyone.

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Get up, get out, and do something

Listening to Mark Zuckerberg  being raked over the coals about personal information sharing on Facebook has got me thinking about this whole social media thing.  I’m not all that concerned or surprised that they keep track of my buying habits, and along with Microsoft show me endless Portuguese home rentals, now that I have investigated the subject once.  A little creepy at first,  but that’s how they make their money to provide a free service, and what’s the harm. Advertising is advertising and maybe you will see something you like.  It’s another thing to find out that they may be trying to assess, and record my medical history, if that’s true;   and I refuse to give them my phone number in spite of their encouragement that it will make my account “safer”.  I try not to give to much information that could be used to assume my identity and, “everybody’s fear”, drain my bank account, but I am overall (perhaps naively) fairly comfortable with letting people get to know me a bit better online.  What’s the point, otherwise.  I guess it’s like when you are talking to people at a party. You can either try to have an actual conversation, finding out something about the other person, and giving an opinion or something of yourself; or you can blather on about your last vacation or the weather, and essentially say nothing.  Which is the more interesting evening?

I belong to some antique and art groups and amongst the “look what I bought” posts, which, don’t get me wrong, are understandable and fine, I look forward to the occasional post which provides insight, or information, or excitement.  There’s always a few.  Perhaps less and less, or is that just me?

For instance, It was great to look at the photographs of all the beautiful and rare things that turned up at Bowmanville this past Good Friday. But it was a distant second to actually being there, and able to see the show first hand.  And that’s the point that we must not forget.  Life looking at the screen is not actual life. You can’t touch it.  You can’t really experience it’s actual presence.  You are looking at a group of pixels.  There is no actual interaction. It’s not real. It’s just a representation.

O.k. so mobility issues,  transportation problems, busy schedules etc. aside, you can argue that the main reason more and more people sit at home living their life online, rather than getting out and experiencing things first hand, is a basic laziness and disconnect brought on by the endless hours of scanning bits and pieces of entertainment and information; always on the surface, always moving on,  which is the essence of web surfing.

I just drank a cup of coffee from this cup.  As I sat and sipped I thought again of how much pleasure drinking this delicious hot beverage from this cup brings me.  I like the way that the sides of the cup is a complimentary shade and form to the crema.  I like the weight and shape.  I like that it was hand thrown and I can feel the grooves that the potter’s finger’s made while forming it on the wheel.  It’s marked “Woodside Potteries” Made in Canada, which is fine because it means it is made by an artisan and not mass produced, but in the end aside from the aforementioned aesthetics, I like it because it reminds me of the day I bought it.

It was on a beautiful, sunny Sunday in late May last year when while visiting our daughter and her husband in Toronto we noticed an ad in the local paper for a neighborhood yard sale over a series of blocks nearby, just off the Danforth. We knew that in terms of scoring a treasure we were too late by hours as it pushing ten o’clock and the pickers would have been through about eight; but we also knew that there is a nice, little breakfast place that we like on the Danforth that would be a great place to end up at for a late brunch.  Also, when your tastes run to eccentric, as mine do,   something I may like could be passed on by almost everyone.  To be honest,  I didn’t care if I found anything or not.  I just enjoyed being out interacting with friendly strangers with my family on a sunny morning with the promise a big breakfast on the horizon.  Plus, it is good for me to walk, and going up and down streets looking at stuff is a good way to walk without noticing it so much.

We parked and walked a bit and about four places in we encountered an interesting array of stuff brought out from a very eccentric looking house by some pretty bizarre looking people.  I got a little excited when I saw an old typewriter, several old photographs and  then set my eyes on a classic 1940’s waterfall vanity dressing table marked $25.  Hmmm. Well I could theoretically make $100 by going back, getting the car, and ultimately dragging it to our booth at the Waterford Antique Market.  But it needed a bit of work, and it’s really not my thing. Plus it would put me out of sink with the rest of my party, and at this point in my career,  if you can still call it that, I only buy things that I would buy for myself.  Things that interest me, or that I recognize contain an energy of originality.   It was a pretty little vanity at a great price, but I walked on.

Several blocks later, we had a bought a few books and a couple of those plaster fruit that they used to give out at the fairs. I have a soft spot for those.  We once had a large white wall in the kitchen covered with them and it was big fun, but you know, it’s not the type of purchase that you brag to your friends about.   We were approaching the restaurant and there was just one row of houses left  when I noticed this cup on a table in front of a fairly upscale (gentrified) bungalow.  Very nice woman who seemed so trustworthy and fun that my daughter bought a couple of used puzzles from her.  Now that’s trust. Anyway, chat, chat, chat, and then “ I notice you are checking out my coffee mug. Five bucks if you can use it”.  You have to drink coffee out of something and for coffee mugs we look for handmade Canadian pottery so it qualified.  “I’ll take it”.   It was later that it became my favourite. The breakfast that day was delicious.

It has to do with the style and weight and the way it keeps my coffee warm, but my affection has most to do with the memories it brings forth of that day; as Lou Reed would say “ a perfect day”. This is why we must make the effort to get up, get out,  and do something.   Look around.  Interact with your fellow humans.  Have a “perfect day” and perhaps find something to bring home to remember the day by.  You can’t order that from Amazon.

In appreciation of Nova Scotia artist Lorne Reid

It is rare, but sometimes you develop a deep relationship with an artist the first time you encounter their work. It’s like falling in love.  Immediately, a lot of your buttons are being pushed and it affects you personally.  It was like that for me with Nova Scotia’s Lorne Reid.  When we attended the Sutherland/ Amit auction in 1994 I was immediately taken by three of his works being offered there.  I had never seen his work. The first and most dramatic was a 5 1/2 foot high sculpture of a mother holding a baby, painted in a pointillist style. Amazing work. Then I found a 11’ x 14” pointillist painting of a dog peeing on a fire hydrant.  I loved it because it was amusing and in your face.  Finally, and for me the most appealing there was a 6’x 3’ oil on plywood painting of a man eating a fish.  Absolutely haunting and powerful image. Not at all pretty. Actually  quite unsettling and not a favorite of my wife or daughter who were with me, but a painting that spoke to me directly.  I was fortunate in that most people sided with my Jeanine and Cassandra’s opinion,  so I was able to get it at a bargain price.  They were fine with the thought that it would go into our collection of stock for resale but they were not so happy when we got home and I hung it above the living room couch. No matter where you sat in the room he was staring at you.  His haunted look and the fish skeleton in front of him on the table suggest a hunger that cannot be satisfied.  It is not a cheerful painting.  I took a lot of heat for a few days but the controversy died down.  Before long he became a member of the family and is in the background of many family Christmas pictures.  I never grew tired looking at it.

Then in 1995, my stepson Brodie who is a musician and member of the excellent Canadian band the Corndogs, asked me if they might use the image for there up-coming CD.  I agreed to if I could get the permission of the artist’s mother, who was handling the estate. I got her number and called her out of the blue, as it were. What a lovely woman. I was nervous, but she was so immediately welcoming and friendly that my concerns quickly left me and we had a wonderful, and long conversation about Lorne. She was all too happy to give permission.  The CD was released on Immune Records in England and did very well there, but never found a Canadian distributer. Still, I think it is a masterful work and I am happy that the painting has become associated with it.  I think you can still buy it on CD Baby or one of those sites.  The juxtaposition of the image with the phrase “love is all” seems appropriate to what I know of Lorne Reid. 

He was a searcher. He hitch-hiked around North America for 15 years, and then went back to Nova Scotia and became a dedicated artist.  He painted and sculpted until his tragic early death by cancer at the age of 37.

Lorne dedicated himself to his work and the work of other local artists.  In 1989, along with artist David Stephens and Chris Huntington he was instrumental in creating The Nova Scotia Folk Art Festival and Picnic.  He is considered by many to be one of the most important and significant artists to come out of Nova Scotia. He was a member of what some refer to as the “new wave” of Nova Scotia folk artists. Younger artists who were influenced by the originals such as Sid Howard,  and then took the energy and style and made it their own.

It was difficult to find much information on Lorne Reid or to see many of his works publicly displayed until in 2010, when Audrey Sandford of the excellent Black Sheep Gallery of West Jeddore Village, Nova Scotia organized and executed a retrospective on his work in her gallery from July 27-August 29. She accompanied the exhibition with an  excellent 6 page catalogue which they make available on their website.  Here is a link  http://www.blacksheepart.com/lornereid1.html

Fellow artist and close friend David Stephens estimates that Lorne did fewer than 100 small folk art paintings and perhaps a dozen larger paintings during his short career.  He remains as one of my favorites, and I hadn’t thought about him much until this morning when  I saw a clipping from the Upper Canadian coverage of the 2004 Bowmanville show that Adrian Tinline posted in the Canadiana Antiques Facebook group.  There it is. “Man eating a fish” which sold the opening night.  I can’t say that what I feel is regret.  I owned it for ten years and sold it to a good collection, but it still makes me feel a little sad, and just a bit haunted.

Charlie Tanner 1904-1982

There are certain folk artists who’s work is so personalized, and exhibits such a distinct style, that once seen, you can recognize the work from across a room.  Charlie Tanner is just such an artist.  I loved his work the first time I laid eyes on it, and he has been one of my favourite folk artists ever since.

In Chris Huntington’s excellent essay published in the booklet that accompanied the 1984 retrospective of his work at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, he writes

 “Stonehurst is a small fishing village that located itself about 200 years ago amidst the barren, rocky, coastal out-reaches about ten miles south of Lunenburg. Stonehurst is that much closer to the inshore fishing grounds so that, in spite of it’s inhospitable geology, it attracted the Germanic farmer-fisherman pushing out fom the hills of Lunenburg. Today every other mailbox proclaims that a Tanner is it’s owner. On February 15, 1904, another Tanner was born there and his name was Charles Enos. “We were common people them days. Everyone was.” Charlie spoke with the heavy Lunenburg-Dutch accent that is still often heard in those parts today. He recalled “Children were growed up before they had any age to them. They never had a chance to go to school. You had to start work when you were so young that you never really had much chance to develop any interests other than fishing”. One of 12 children Charlie started cod lining as part of the family livelihood when he was “eight, ten maybe nine”.  By 13 like other his age, his father took him to Lunenburg and put him on a schooner for the Grand Banks, where he earned $30.00 a month as a deck hand until he was 15, at which time he was considered a grown man. Charlie then took his place at the bow of one of the dozen dories that put out each dawn and afternoon to set trawl for codfish. There he labored under tutelage of an older, experienced fisherman as a part of a two man team, for which Charlie earned a share of the schooner’s take.  Between the long voyages to the banks, like other fishermen, Charlie mended gear, built boats, repaired houses, farmed, chipped out decoys and took them gunning, as he had ever since he was big enough to carry a gun. – “That was none too big either”.

After a dozen years or so of salt-banking Charlie contributed to the bootleg industry by schoonering cases of liquor from St. Pierre to outside the twelve mile boundary off of Block Island, New York, where the crew would wait for power boats evading the Feds to steal through the darkness to relieve the cargo. “That was good fun,” Charlie said. At the same time Charlie put his name in as a labourer at the New Mersey Plant. Though the job never materialized, he bought a boat and, between rum-running trips took up life as an inshore out of Mersey point near Liverpool. Stonehurst hadn’t been big enough for all those Tanners so Charlie settled into a forty year period of either fishing alone, or with one partner, in his 40 foot Cape Islander, jigging Cod, seining herring or mackerel, the latter of which was used to bait lobster traps during those seasons. ”Them times there was no money. When you went all  day out and got 2,000 pounds of fish and made $25 or $30 to fead the two of you.” The take was one cent a pound for cod and 40 cents for lobster. Charlie said he took by handline a much as 3,000 pounds of cod by himself in one day. It may have been a tough haul but it was what Charlie knew.  His hands after a life of such toil were an amazing testament to the life they lived. Work was like breathing; it was second nature. “Fishing.  It’s a damn habit, that’s all it is,” he said looking back. His wife Helen offered “He’s just an old alt, that’s all he is.” But of course that is not all that Charlie was, and this exhibition celebrates the other part of his life, for which he will ultimately be remembered; that is, the roughly eight years he spent making small carved and painted figures of living things.”

Charlie Tanner died in 1982. Two years after his death, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia honoured him with an exhibition of his work.

Reference: Charlie Tanner Retrospective, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1984. Folk Art of Nova Scotia, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia,

Joe Lloyd – Brantford carver captured life moments in miniature

You won’t find many references to Joe Lloyd in the folk art books.  It is difficult to see his work in museums. To my knowledge he never received an award or was offered a show in a public gallery. But besides being a heck of a nice fellow, Joe was a dedicated folk artist, and he had his niche.

Joe at his home in 1994

I met Joe in 1994 when I picked up signs he had voluntarily made for the one time Canadian Contemporary Folk Art Festival which was held in Paris, Ontario. He lived near the hospital in Brantford, and he and his wife Janet welcomed us in for a cup of tea in spite of the fact they did not know us. In the living room, behind him on some built in shelves there were many examples of his work. All on a smaller scale with the biggest being about ten inches tall. I asked him how he got started, and what he was carving at the moment.

He told me his carving life began at age 14, and he won a prize in grade five for his ivory soap carving of the Lone Ranger. Joe continued to carve occasionally but really “got back into it” in 1976 when he moved to Brantford, and met and was encouraged by local folk artist Gordon Papple.

Joe’s subject matter evolved from wildlife carving of fish, bear, and birds, into carving the human figure, and then he began to place those figures in small scenes, many which are interictally detailed. Typical subjects of Joe’s sculptures are sports figures, cowboys, super heroes, soldiers, and domestic scenes such as a man changing a tire as his wife looks on, a farm auction, a butcher shop, and a kitchen scene, a barber shop etc. All of his work is carved and painted and most of it is signed.  His prices were very reasonable, typically asking between $25 to about $60 for his most intricate pieces. Joe was a modest man. He told me he didn’t care about being paid for all the hours he put into producing the pieces, and was just happy to have the pieces go to appreciative homes, so the place didn’t clutter up, and he could feel free to produce some more.  We bought eight or ten pieces that day, and would call Joe every six months or so to see what he had been up to.  Usually going home with six to ten pieces.  Then in 2005 when I curated the Finding Folk Art exhibit at the Eva Brook-Donly Museum in Simcoe, we included Joe, and asked him to participate in a one day folk art sale which was a part of the proceedings. It was great fun, and he did very well that day.

Years slipped by, and we got busy with new ventures and life direction and we just didn’t get around to visiting Joe much after that.  A couple of years slipped by and the next thing we knew we were reading his obituary in the paper.  We didn’t know joe very well, but we really liked him, and we are glad to have known him and to own some of his pieces. At his best, his little, detailed miniatures look into moments of human behavior with a simplicity and clarity that make you happy to be looking at them.  They are both light-hearted, and observant. Because his work was not large or flashy it is easy to underestimate him. He stayed in his area, and he was good at realizing what he was imagining.  All this and not a self-conscious bone in his body. When he participated in the Simcoe exhibit we had him provide us with some biological details. This is what he told us.

a typical
Joe Lloyd signature

Joe Lloyd was born in 1937 in Ernstown, South Fredricksburg County, near Napanee Ontario. When Joe was one, his father became involved in cheese production.and moved the family to Aston, Ontario. Then when Joe was fourteen, he moved with his family to Carlton Place when his father got a job at the Finley Forge making cook stoves.

Joe left school at the age of fifteen, and went to work at various jobs in woolen mills, sheet metal plants, logging, pulp and paper mills, and then with the C.N.R. and Great Northern railways. Then Joe crossed Canada twice working on construction jobs in bridge work, highways, building construction and renovation. As a laborer, then carpenter, and foreman he has helped to build houses, bowling alleys, airplane hangars, cottages, and the Maple Leaf Gardens. Joe worked from 1976 until his retirement in 1999 as a maintenance worker, and then night security at the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ontario.

Joe lived with his wife Janet in Brantford until his sudden death on April 21, 2011 at the age of 74.  He is survived by Janet and two grown sons.

I’m looking at a little crane that he carved and gave to Jeanine when he noticed she had a collection of carved birds. It makes me smile.  His work lives on.

So long Joe.  It was good to know you.

1977 article on Canadian Folk Art

The following article was originally printed in “Antiques and Art” magazine, July / August 1977 issue. It was written by Nora Sterling and Jackie Kalman. This article serves as a useful introduction to folk art, and it is also interesting to note how much folk art has grown in recognition and popularity over the past thirty years.


CANADIAN FOLK ART
By NORA STERLING and JACKIE KALMAN

When the Bowmanville Antiques and Folk Art Show opened its doors this year, waiting with the throng to enter were two people very significant by their presence. They were buyers from the Museum of Man and the National Gallery in Ottawa. The academically oriented National Gallery soon will be opening its folk art room and, in anticipation, has been collecting for the past few years.

By buying and displaying folk art, these prestigious institutions announce to Canadians what other more culturally secure countries have acknowledged for at least 50 years: folk art has finally come of age.

In the United States, as early as the 1920s, families like the Rockefellers, DuPonts and Whitneys had major collections of folk art, much of which now reside in three New York museums: the Metropolitan, the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art.

In Canada, folk art is just being recognised as a viable and valid art form with qualities of freshness, inventiveness and vigour that make it exciting. What gives folk art its originality and charm is that, fortunately, the gifted artists who produced it are free from the dogmas and restrictions which the academic world imposes.

Folk art is not merely a quaint reminder of a nation’s manners and mores, a thing of the past with only functional or merely decorative purposes. It may indeed have all of these attributes, but like all good art, its expressions are powerful and compelling with an originality of concept, creativity of design, craftsmanly use of the medium and flashes of inspiration that are not surpassed by many academic artists.

Keeping in mind the similarities between academic and folk artists, the distinctive difference is that the latter is unschooled, while not necessarily unskilled. For example, a folk artist may have been whittling from his youth, creating bits and pieces for his own pleasure in his spare time. As an adult he may have become a white collar worker or perhaps a farmer, while still retaining his interest and further developing his skill.

Donald Hays is such a folk artist. Carving since he was five years old, he is .now in his early 40s and an engineer by profession. He carves bird decoys which he paints with the incredible expertise and attention to detail of an Audubon. With the true artist’s eye, he chooses those idiosyncratic stances and important characteristics that are peculiar to the bird he is carving.

On the other hand, Collins Eisenhauer, a folk artist who, like Grandma Moses, has “made it,” did not start intensive wood carving until 1964, when he was 66 years old. When asked what he did for a living in the ’30s, Eisenhauer replied, ” I wouldn’t like to tell you! ” He does admit, however, to being a farm hand, a logger and a sailor. His work has been bought by the Museum of Man, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the National Gallery in Ottawa.

Though carved from big hunks of wood, his figures still have a two dimensional look about them. They have the static and stiff quality which is characteristic of naive art – as if the artist does not want to risk a trial of skill to depict movement.

Charles Tanner, an ex-fisherman from Nova Scotia, approaches the task of carving with even a lesser degree of academic knowledge of the craft of sculpture than Eisenhauer. He solves his technical problems simply, by a complete disregard of detail and a disrespect for proportion which, in effect, enhance his work. One is struck by his bold personal style – exuberant, colourful and direct. His sculptures are now on tour with an exhibit of Canadian art assembled by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Generally studied in a category unto themselves, decoys have a significant place in the spectrum of folk art. Following the Indian custom of making lures to attract water fowl, the white man began carving and painting decoys.

These decoys were utilitarian. They were meant, through their likenesses, to attract birds to be shot. The early makers sold their decoys for 20 cents to 50 cents a piece. However, when market gunning was prohibited in 1918, decoy makers and factories went out of business, so the sportsman, by default, became his own decoy maker.

At this juncture, decoys became folk sculpture. The link with the folk genre lies in the carver’s craftsmanship and especially in his personal interpretation of the salient characteristics of his quarry.

Sculpture is only one way in which the power and beauty of folk art is expressed. Rugs, quilts, paintings, furniture and accessories are among the wide variety of objects produced by folk artists.

Much has been written on folk art, albeit not Canadian. Many art historians, curators and artists have concluded that the expressions of folk art are world-wide and that they state universal truths – realities which will always be voiced by untrained people with a creative urge.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Barber, Joel. Wild Fowl Decoys. New York: Windward House, 1934. Reprinted New York: Dover Public- ations, 1954.

Bishop, Robert. American Folk Sculpture. New- York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1974.

Folk Sculpture U.S.A. Edited.by Herbert W. Hemphill Jr. The Brooklyn Museum and the Los kngeles County Museum of Art. Catalogue- for 1976 show.

Folk Art of Nova Scotia. Art gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Catalogue for show, November 1976 through May 1978. Biographies of artists and illustrations of their works.

Gladstone, M.J. A Carrot for a Nose:, the Form of Folk Sculpture on America’s City Streets and Country Roads. New York: Charles Scribner’s Song, 1974.

Hooked Rugs in the Folk Art Tradition. Museum of American Folk Art, New York. Catalogue for 1974 show.

Lipman, Jean and Winchester, Alice.The Flowering of American Folk Art, 1776-1876. New York: The Viking Press in cooperation with the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1974.

People’s Art: Naive Art in Canada. J. Russell Harper. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Catalogue for, show, 1973-1974.

The April Antiques and Folk Art Show. Mel Shakespeare. Catalogue for the 1975 Bowmanville, Ontario, show.

How I gained an appreciation of painted furniture

mid nineties at the church.
lots of painted furniture

Some people are brought into an appreciation of antique painted furniture by encouragement from a relative or friend who is  a collector.  Some come to it through self-discovery and research.  Some, perhaps most, don’t come to it at all.   It depends on how you’re wired.   Early antique painted furniture is relatively rare and so you don’t even see it all that often, so many people do not know it even exists.

corner washstand in original butter yellow paint over blueberry stain from Thamesville, Ont.

In my case,  I was brought up in a house with several antiques inherited from my mother’s family.  I had a great uncle in Chatham who made furniture so we had a few of his pieces.  All either cherry or walnut and all in original varnish.  I enjoyed going with my mother and uncle to antique shops and  auctions, and occasionally they would buy something.  Although these were mostly of the decorating or serving dish variety.  My father didn’t seem to care much about the furnishings as long as he had a comfortable chair to sit in and was happy to leave it up to my mother.  It wasn’t all about antiques. If we needed a new couch or bed,  my parents would buy a new item.  If they needed a chest of drawers they would go for an antique, but they were practical people.  Antique beds are 5 1/2 feet long for heaven’s sake, and antique settees are almost universally uncomfortable. I think the reasoning was, if the seat is uncomfortable the guest will leave sooner, and of course nobody was stretching out trying to be comfortable watching t.v.

early chest in red stain with remnant of white overpaint

As a teenager I enjoyed the social scene of the rural auction.  My tastes ran more towards an appreciation of old advertising, and household objects, but I also had an interest in older hand made furniture.  Most of the furniture that I would encounter in those days was either in dark varnish, or faux painted to make a cheaper wood such as maple, look like oak, or overpainted with thick oil paint, most often white or similar trim colour that they had laying around.  I’d say an overwhelming percentage was like this, like 80 percent.  But occasionally I would see a piece (usually older) in a bright painted colour, darkened, thinned, and untouched over the years.  I instinctively gravitated toward these pieces.  I didn’t know anything about patina,  but I knew they excited me. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that the dealers in the crowd would be right onto these pieces and they would draw big money.  I didn’t stand a chance of owning one with my budget.

Then when in the early eighties we started to make a living by selling antiques, with a truck and a strong back I began buying lots of antique furniture at local auctions.   At the time, the biggest part of the market was for stripped furniture in light wood.  You could buy a chest with several coats of paint, strip it down to the wood and refinish it, and make a good buck for your trouble.  I didn’t mind doing this in ninety nine percent of the cases, but every once in a while I would get a piece which as you stripped it down, would reveal a beautiful colour under all the other layers.  Instinctively I would try to save this paint.

a Quebec blanket box in blueberry paint with remnant of white over-paint

We used a relatively gentle water-based stripper called PVR, that if your timing was right, would “pop” one layer at a time.  It took a bit longer but you had more control and the fumes were not as bad. Well, still bad but I always worked with a big exhaust fan which is why I still have a few brain cells left.  I can tell you stories of others, but they are sad, and that’s another day.  In any case, some of this older furniture, the ones with the beautiful original colours were painted in milk paint.  In the days before oil paint.  These paints would stay put fairly well stuck to the surface, and if your timing was right you could take all the top layers off to reveal this original paint, and you could stop there and just wash it down with a little Murphy’s oil soap and it would look good.  Then later I learned about dry scrapping.  I bought myself a good Lee Valley scrapping knife and learned how to control the pressure and retain the concentration to take the top layers off without effecting the original surface.  it is a very satisfying feeling when you get this right, and you sit back and admire the finished piece brought back to it’s original glory.  Of course, on the rare occasions you will come across a piece that has never been touched, or abused, and is perfectly wonderful the way it is, and with knowledge you realize how precious these pieces really are.

sideboard with mustard paint over dark stain

Over the years I have developed an appreciation for the ge3nerally finer made, formal “brown” furniture that many love for their city homes, but I have developed a passion for the early country pieces in beautiful colour.   Once you have this love of painted furniture there is no turning back.  It’s like being in love.

Good pieces are not all that easy to come across but they are worth the search.  Go to a good Tim Potter auction, or the Cabin Fever show coming up February  3rd and 4th in Kingston, Ontario, or the Bowmanville show on Good Friday and you’ll see some.  You might even take something home with you. You’d be wise to.  It will enrich your life.

early chest with original, untouched blue and white paint.