Defining Folk Art & Intuit’s Collect-O-Rama

Folk Art Bird

While perusing the Chicago Reader two weekends ago I noticed a small blurb for Collect-O-Rama, what was described as a “garage sale for collectors of outsider and folk art”. Since it was sponsored by the renowned Intuit Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art and the vendors were collectors rather than professional dealers, I figured it would be an unusual market. Fortunately the venue where it was held, the Pulaski Park Field House, was within walking distance of my apartment. By the time I arrived the booths were packed with shoppers so it was a bit tricky getting photographs. There were about 20 booths in one indoor space and merchandise ranged from “typical” folk art like wood carvings to more manufactured, kitsch items like paint by numbers pictures.

Prior to attending Collect-O-Rama I had a certain definition of folk art in mind but apparently the term encompasses a wide range of materials, styles and geographic locations. There were forged iron bracelets from Africa, miniature ships crafted in light bulbs from Maine and rag dolls from the Caribbean. Some of the pieces were vintage or antique while half of the booths contained contemporary items.

I’m both a self taught and institutionally trained artist so the show brought up several questions about the definition of folk art and what separates it from handcrafted items that are made today (ie offerings on etsy) and what’s considered to be “fine art”. Even though I have a master’s degree in photography would an item I knitted or collaged be considered folk art? I’d be interested if any readers out there collect folk art and where they find their pieces– Collect-O-Rama hadn’t been held since 1997 and I don’t know of another show like it in the Chicago area. It’s definitely a new realm of collecting for me and I will be definitely visiting the Intuit soon to try and answer some of my own questions about this genre of art.

folkartchicken

Giant stuffed chicken made of what looked to be painted leather.

slideglasses

A pair of glasses made with Kodachrome slides rather than lenses.

folkartjugs

Pottery jugs in the shapes of heads, I’m assuming one artist created all of these.

shoepincushions

Pin cushions in the shape of shoes, the one on the far left is actually made of mulch created from paper money (ie dollar bills).

folkarttoys
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coalscuttle

An antique metal coal scuttle.


petcarrier

Wood and metal pet (small dog or cat) carrier and paintings.

peacockrocker

A wooden peacock-shaped rocker for a toddler.

woodhamburger

Perfect decor for a kitchen, I wonder if the wooden hamburger and shake came out of a restaurant.

folkartshow
folkartwoodfigures
africanfolkart

One booth contained mainly African and African American art and sculpture. The vendor also sells at the Randolph Street Market in the summer.

folkartduo

carvedwooddolls
folkartbeardedmask
An unusual bearded mask, I’m wondering if it’s supposed to resemble the devil or a god.

folkartpaintings
folkartportrait
bootscraperbeetle
A metal beetle that I presume is an antique boot scraper; it would help you get mud off your shoes.

folkartmetalfurniture
Modernist miniature furniture made of metal.

tincananimals

Friendly looking animals made of tin cans.

puppetsarmchair
fashionillustration
eskimodoll
ironbangles

The only jewelry at the show was in this one booth– the bangles are African, made of iron and weighed at least a pound each!

ironbracelets
duckdecoys
folkartpaintings2
paintsets
tincaninsects
More art made from tin cans, this time giant insects.

folkartsuperman

embroideredcatpillows

I spent 20 minutes trying to decide if I should break my “no buying vintage pillows rule” for these two sweet hand embroidered cat pillows. Ultimately I decided to leave them behind.

framedphoto
paperwrapperpineapple
The owner of this booth told me the pineapple was Chinese “prison art”. I’ve seen purses and other items made of candy and cigarette wrappers but didn’t know they had the same tradition in China.

woodchains

The wood chains pictured above and below are known as “whimsies” and are carved from one piece of wood. They would make excellent decor, I could see 3 or 4 hanging together on a wall.

woodwhimsies
monkeysuit
A happy customer with his new purchase, a vintage monkey suit/costume complete with head.

folkartface
folkartfaces
papermachehorse
vintagephotos2

As a photographer, the biggest surprise to me was to see vintage vernacular photographs at the show. Photos are often included in collage forms of folk art but I also discovered that the images themselves are also now considered to be part of the folk art category. The photo above and the next 4 were taken in Ron of Big Happy Funhouse’s booth. He’s a retired photography dealer, blogger and now a curator– he owns hundreds of negatives and prints by Vivian Maier, a Chicago-area street photographer in the 1950s-1970s. He’ll be showing some of Maier’s original prints next month at the Corbett vs Dempsey art gallery.

vintagephotos
vintagefireworkphotos

Photographs of fireworks that resembled Modern Art in their abstraction.

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colorfulsketchbook

Piles of sketchbooks containing colorful drawings.

folkartdolls

One of the booths contained folk art pieces that appeared to be 100 years old or older and exclusively made in America.

folkartwood
parrotcane

A creepy yet intriguing cane with a handle in the shape of a parrot’s head.


IMG_4770

Rows of handcrafted wooden ships.

shipsinalightbulb

Ships built in a light bulb, definitely taking the ship in a bottle to a new level.

knitteddollsclothing

Of course one of my favorite booths contained crafts made by women in the 1940s-1970s including the knitted doll’s clothing above and below.

knittedclothing

knittedwarholbanana

My favorite item in the booth was a Pop Art style knitted banana that reminded me of Andy Warhol’s iconic banana. I really wanted to buy it but the woman didn’t want to separate it from a grouping of knitted fruit. Oh well.

knittedpopsicles

More knitted versions of iconic items, including the pull apart popsicles that remind me of childhood summers.

russianfolkduck

Somehow I walked away with only three purchases at the show, the first a carved and painted duck dish (?) that looks similar to pieces that I know to be of Ukrainian origin. I’m guessing this duck is likely Russian or Eastern European.

montecarlotokennecklace

Not technically folk art, but I had to get this necklace made with pre-1920s Monte Carlo casino game tokens.

vintagedinosaurparkphotos
Lastly two black and white vernacular photos taken at the Dinosaur Park in Cabozon, California. When I lived in Los Angeles, we used to always pass the dinosaur park on the way to camping trips in Joshua Tree.

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