Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Folk Art in Maine

Maine is known for it’s folk art. It’s not unusual for a folk art collector or dealer to travel to Maine just for the purpose of hunting for something special. They won’t know exactly what they are searching for until they see it, but they will definitely know when they find it. Folk art is so individual in style and design, and one person’s “gotta-have” might be skipped over quickly by another when it just didn’t speak to them.

Clients often ask me to define antique folk art. Basically, a folk art antique is something hand-made and original, imagined and created by someone who made it as a one-of-a-kind item. It definitely will not be a mass-manufactured piece.

It can be a hooked rug, or a figural item made of wood or metal, maybe a piece of decorated stoneware, or even a piece of furniture. It’s appeal lies in it’s naivete’, it’s country-like “feel”, it’s informality. If you see ten of exactly the same "folk art", then I wouldn’t consider it to be a true folk art one-of-a-kind antique.

It can be more than one hundred years old, or it could have been made just 50 years ago. There are no date limitations to folk art, although the earlier the better. There are folk artists working today who are making a name for themselves with their unique ideas, and they will be appreciated for many decades for their art.

One of the hottest folk art items today are early hooked rugs, usually pre-1910. They are the kind of wool rugs made by women who used their own ideas instead of a manufactured pattern, and then used whatever wool fabrics they saved - usually recycled clothing - to make practical, useful rugs for their homes. Animal designs are extremely popular and can be quite pricey - cats, dogs, horses, roosters and lions all draw premium prices.

Condition is important - good early hooked rugs might have foundation dry rot, which is difficult and expensive to repair. Missing sections of wool can be restored, and a professional conservator will use antique fabric of the time period and style for repairs. Professional washing will brighten a rug and make it worth hanging as wall art; a rug should always be cleaned before restoration so colors can be matched properly.

A good rug will look it’s best mounted on a frame, so it can hang on the wall and be appreciated as wall art. Putting a good rug on the floor can cause more damage as it’s walked on, and certainly one can’t see it as well on the floor compared to wall-hanging it.

Maine is known nationally amongst dealers as THE place to find good rugs - so many women here made fabulous rugs long ago. Rug hookers here were so resourceful and creative, and were influenced by their surroundings. Many antiques shops offer fine early hooked rugs of all kinds - scenics, florals, animals, geometrics, sailing ships, just to name a few categories - with the earlier late 19th century rugs most desirable.

Good rugs can costs a few hundred dollars, but some will cost several thousand dollars, with size, rarity of design, and expertise of hooker all considered in pricing.

If you are interested in having your own rug cleaned and/or restored, please feel free to contact me for more information.

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