I think that it is accurate to suggest that a high percentage of what we define as folk art is made by energetic people who reach retirement, and find they need to produce something to keep their interest in life alive, and burn off creative energy. Some of these people turn to enhancing their immediate environment. Edmund Chatigny comes to mind who spent his working day creating a yard full of spotted flowers, animals, and birds, all in a similar style. What he made innocently has great artistic strength, and integrity. His intention was not for profit, but rather to decorate his yard. Here’s a link to my blog about him, https://shadflyguy.com/2016/09/16/its-not-saleable-it-doesnt-get-made-in-a-minute-the-art-of-edmund-chatigny/
And then there are other folk artists who seek to create a product. Something saleable which will bring in cash. A craftsman’s approach. Some of these people are uniquely talented, and the work becomes very popular in spite of their lack of professional training, or intent. Maud Lewis is a good example.
We were driving along Rte 138 on the north shore of the St Lawrence near Trois Rivieres Quebec, when we spotted a sign for a yard sale. We are talking about the 1980’s when it was a good idea to check out all yard sales. It was early on and there were still lots of good things coming to light. So we pulled in and became immediately drawn to a few odd looking, hand-made bird houses sitting under a tree. Really cool, looking like something out of Dr. Seuss. They were unpainted and a little rough around the edges, but you could see the potential. Jeanine asked in French, “Can you tell us something about the birdhouses please.” An elderly gentleman came over to us and explained that he had made them in his little shop out back just to keep himself busy. Then he started quoting prices, all of which were reasonable. “I see you have six out here on display. Do you have others?”. He smiled and said “come with me”. We found ourselves in his back yard, behind a small barn and there sat what looked to be an old two-seater outhouse. Door latched shut with a stick of wood. He swung open the door, and taa daa, the entire space from floor to ceiling was stuffed with birdhouses. There had to be 100 or so in there. He grinned, “You see I have more. How many would you like?” We excused ourselves for a moment so we could have a quick huddle, and then Jeanine asked “Well what do you want for all of them?” His eye’s lit up and he said without hesitation “Take them all and pay so much a piece no matter what the model.” I honestly can’t remember the exact price, but it was extremely reasonable, say $15 each. Deal.
I drove the pick up right to the outhouse and we began the arduous task of unloading and reloading all those birdhouses. They filled up every bit of space we had left, and when we were finished there was so much rope holding everything in place that it looked like a spider’s web. We were full at this point so we headed home, feeling quite giddy.
It was summertime, and our daughter and three of her friends had just discovered what a drag picking strawberries was as a summer job, so we offered them the job to sand, prime, and paint all those birdhouses. They set up at the picnic table under a big tree, cranked up the radio, and started to work. We provided paint, brushes, sandwiches and beverages and paid them by the piece. They were happy, and we were happy with the excellent job they did both in the quality of the work, and their choices of bright colours. We loved to look out and see more and more brightly coloured bird houses hanging from the cloths line, and hearing the happy chatter from the work team. It lasted over several weeks and we sold them just about as fast as they became available. Eventually they all had new homes and we contemplated a return trip to see if more had been made, but never got around to it. We thought that with all that space available in the old outhouse and after such a successful sale, our maker friend would probably get right back to it. We never did find out. I still see them from time to time at antique shows.