- The study of English regional folk-art styles has been deplorably neglected. Yet visual display has always been essential to many traditional customs; even if the objects created were only to be seen for one day, they had to have an impact. They were skilfully made, showing individual variations within traditionally determined designs.Folk-art of this kind includes the purely domestic (e.g. *Easter eggs, *Christmas decorations); communal artistic creation (*well-dressing); objects made and displayed by an occupational group, or by children, in expectation of reward (*Jack-in-the-Green, *May garlands, *grottoes, the *poppy show); carts temporarily decorated for seasonal celebrations (*rushbearing, *harvest home); *effigies to be burnt. More substantial objects, designed to be repeatedly used at annual events, include many costumes and masks worn by participants in folk drama, dancing, and pageantry, such as *hobby horses and processional *giants and *dragons. Many are comic, or mock-horrific. A few objects, notably *corn dollies, were displayed for a year and then destroyed; the funereal *Maidens' Garlands were meant to be permanent. All were made, not bought; all show the interplay of traditional patterns and individual variation which is the essence of folklore.In pre-industrial England, most men's crafts were utilitarian, their beauty depending on the match between form and function, rather than ornament; only a few working groups made much use of colour, mainly carters and boatmen. Decorative woodcarving is found on furniture and a few personal items such as pipes, whips, tool-handles, walking sticks, and shepherds' crooks. Certain intricately chip-carved objects were fashioned by men not for their own use but as love-tokens; notable examples are the Yorkshire knitting sheaths, whose shape and ornamentation varies from one dale to the next, and Yorkshire stay-busks (Brears, 1989: 46-62, 75-80; Lambert and Marx, 1989: 20-1).Women's needlework emphasized ornament; lace-making, smocking, embroidery, tapestry, and beadwork were always popular, among those who could afford the materials. One widespread product was the sampler, a small linen square displaying different stitches in silk or wool, made by children to prove their skill; its centrepiece was lettering, usually expressing piety, surrounded by pictorial decoration. Elaborate satin or velvet pincushions were made as christening presents, shining pinheads forming patterns and a message (e.g. 'Welcome, little stranger'). Women also made sturdy rag-rugs from strips of cloth threaded through hessian in attractive designs, especially in the northern counties (Brears, 1989: 140-51). This region also had a vigorous quilting tradition, using embroidery, patchwork, and applique; many nineteenth-century examples survive.Ornamental objects created by local craftsmen as a means of public communication included carved or painted inn signs and trade signs, ships' figureheads, weathervanes, and tombstones. They were handmade, and offered scope for lively invention within a shared tradition. In recent decades, 'village signs' have become popular in East Anglia.When discussing material objects in an industrialized society, it is hard to know where to draw the line between 'folk culture' and 'popular culture'. Items such as fairground souvenirs, greetings cards, mourning jewellery, or religious pictures have been factory-made since early Victorian times, and hence fairly standardized; yet they are used as adjuncts to festivities and life-cycle events which are essentially folkloric. Their designs may also be rooted in folk tradition. On this level, folk/popular art has been, and still is, abundant.Towards the middle of the 19th century, various social groupings began using conspicuous objects, created by industrial techniques, to symbolize their identity. There were large, bright pictorial banners used in street parades by many organizations, religious and secular, especially Temperance Clubs and Trade Union branches. Painted on rubberized silk and adorned with fringes and tassels, they conveyed the aims of the organization through realistic or symbolic figures, mottoes, heraldic devices, and portraits of leaders.Gaudy decoration characterized the world of popular amusements: music halls, pubs, fairs, and circuses. Here too the 19th century saw an increase of industrial products, but individual craftsmen and amateurs were still active. What is now thought of as a 'Gypsy caravan', a one-roomed dwelling mounted on a horse-drawn cart, originated among fairground showmen of the early 19th century, and was adopted by *Gypsies around 1850. Its multicoloured paintwork, covering every inch of the exterior and much of the internal fittings, constitutes a distinctive art-form with scrolls, flowers, and horses as its typical motifs; though such waggons were made by specialist firms, they were exclusively used by two marginal social groups, showmen and Gypsies, and proclaimed their identity.Another working group using mobile homes was the canal bargees and their families, and they too compensated for cramped quarters by colourful decoration. Canal boat art, first described in 1873, combines geometric designs with flowers and romantic landscapes, applied not only to the boat but to all its furnishings, and even utensils such as basins and pails. The artists were generally the boatbuilders, but sometimes the bargees themselves.■ Peter Brears, 1989; Lambert and Marx, 1989; Averil Colby, Samplers Yesterday and Today (1964); Anne Sebba, Samplers: Five Centuries of a Gentle Craft (1979); John Gorman, Banner Bright (1973); M. FitzRandolph, Traditional Quilting (1953); Rosemary Allen, North Country Quilts and Coverlets (1987); C. H. Ward-Jackson and D. E. Harvey, The English Gypsy Caravan (1972); Tony Lewery, 'Rose, Castle and Canal', Folklore 106 (1995), 43-56.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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