Jim's Blog

The Dark Side of Folk Art

There’s always been a dark side to folk art. And when you think of America’s first folk artists, the early settlers facing an uncertain life in an unknown wilderness, I’d say that’s pretty understandable! They existed on the edge of civilization, in harsh conditions where life and death were daily considerations, often beyond human control. They created dark, sometimes twisted images as a way to face their fears, a way to deal with a merciless environment. It’s a testament to their courage that they survived, and to their creativity that they produced art that endures and inspires us today.

But there’s something else about those early dark images from American folk art. They have a sense of humor!  There was usually a funny twist to show they didn’t take their problems or themselves too seriously. I love that!  And I try to express that in my work.  I use details, sometimes surprising, often obscure, and sometimes just plain silly to that end.  Like on this new Skeleton Witch design for Halloween. It’s no question she’s scary! But the sly smirk on the black cat’s face, the subtle silhouette of witches at their cauldron, the over-the-top skull pendant, they’re all meant to add some fun and an element of humor to the piece.  It’s an approach I use that’s rooted in tradition worth keeping alive today.  Our forebears lived in a harsh world filled with adversity and fought back with courage, creativity and humor.  I’d say that’s a pretty good formula for right now too!