Now is the time to embrace folk art and primitive furniture. It's been a very strange year, and we have all lived simpler lifestyles. Folk art represents community, utilitarianism, and simple joys- concepts we can all focus on as we move forward.
What is folk art?
Folk art is an umbrella term for a wide range of objects that were made in rural communities before the dawn of mass production. There were no rules; local craftsmen made objects and pieces of furniture for a purpose and to please. The genre can include carved animals and human figures, quirky trade signs, charming country furniture, and a host of other unique pieces.
Some pieces are instantly recognisable, such as Welsh stick back chairs. Pieces like these became ingrained in local tradition and are popular with collectors today.
This rural furniture often exhibits interesting carpentry techniques, such as dovetail and mortise-and-tenon joints. Because of the rustic assembly, makers almost always chose to paint the finished product.
Folk art was only coined as a genre when the Arts and Crafts movement began to gather momentum in the 19th Century. William Morris, who spearheaded Arts and Crafts, defined folk art as, 'anything exhibiting cultural heritage in a non-elitist, primitive or homemade style.'
Morris was inspired by the legacy of this genre in his own approach to design. Both styles value the individual craftsman and utilitarian furniture, albeit Arts and Crafts consciously rather than out of necessity.
Arts and Crafts was a reaction against mass production and the industrial revolution, whilst folk art preceded these changes. There were no machines and every piece of furniture was handmade for purpose.
Folk art was a personal craft, so no two pieces are quite the same. Because pieces were designed to meet a particular need, the maker could adapt to taste and requirements.
Farmers often used their dormant months to make furniture. They would construct chairs, tables and whatever was needed for their family, but also for the wider community. Rural areas were always a few years behind the furniture trends of the big cities, but sometimes a carpenter would make a copy of a popular style. The main difference was that country craftsmen would always make use of local woods, such as birch and pine. Meanwhile, the cities were importing more exotic timbers.
Despite the individual nature of this craft, there are a few traits that distinguish the genre. Folk art pieces often exhibit brightly coloured and vibrant painted decoration. The subject matter is usually a simple and naive portrayal of recognisable objects. Apart from anything else, these painted scenes were a form of communication within a largely illiterate society.
Scandinavia had a particularly strong culture of communal eating and drinking, and people made objects for dining. Meanwhile, you see many candlesticks made in England and other areas of Europe, as candles were the main form of lighting in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Some pieces of primitive furniture are more decorative in nature. Many objects were made as a marriage token for newlyweds, demonstrating the strong community element of this furniture.
A charming example of this tradition is the marriage coffer; a decorative box presented to a newlywed couple. The folk art tradition also produced endearing love tokens, and collectors covet Welsh carved spoons for their romantic history. Much of the appeal of folk art antiques comes from the personal histories they represent.
Due appreciation for folk art
For a genre of art that was only properly acknowledged in the 19th Century, it's safe to say that folk art is getting some overdue appreciation right now. In 2014, Tate Britain hosted an exhibition dedicated to British folk art to draw attention to this neglected area of art history.
The exhibition celebrated everything from Toby jugs to ships' figureheads. Tate Britain described such pieces as, 'often humble but always remarkable,' which encapsulates this genre perfectly.
Antiques have started appealing to a wider market, particularly young people. For a younger generation, folk art furniture and decor represents something that is both sustainable and personal. The desire for something quirky, something a little bit different, is driving modern interior design today and folk and primitive art is a wonderful way to achieve this.
We have spent more time in our homes than ever before this year. Naturally, this comes with a heightened awareness of our interiors. Primitive design is a wonderful antidote to the complexity and pressures of modern life, and it blends in particularly well in a contemporary interior.
Stripped back folk art furniture looks charming in a rustic country kitchen, whilst some of the brightly painted pieces bring a pop of colour. This design is far from restrictive in terms of choice; benches, chairs, and stools of all shapes and sizes will meet the requirements for your space.
Don't stop at furniture and consider the wide range of decorative pieces that can liven up your interior. Folk art paintings are particularly charming, as well as tapestries, painted screens, and carved figures.
Folk art furniture is primitive, unpretentious, and often tells a wonderful story. It connects us to our ancestors and country in a deeply personal and accessible way.
The Lorfords lookbook, 'Our Rural Forebears,' shows how you can unlock your interiors through primitive design.