Tate Britain Exhibition: Folk Art


applique by Gaeorge Smart c 1830

Goosewoman C.1840 by George Smart – paper and fabric collage

pieced cloth by James William of Wrexham

Patchwork bedcover 1842-1852 by James William of Wrexham

Team R&B, Amanda and Juliet, have been banging on about the resurgence of folk art as a design concept over the last year. They have been taking some of those old techniques, turning them on their heads to create new designs for the twenty first century.

Only last week we were talking to design industry stalwart, Jazmine Rocks,  about the prominent role folk art is currently taking in the design world.

Bone cockeral maker unknown

Bone cockerel c.1797-1814

Yesterday, Times property columnist of the year Anne Ashworth, described Folk art as the latest loft apartment trend. She says if you want to buy the real thing then look no further than the Lapada Art and Antiques Fair (Sept 24-28) and Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair (Sept 30-Oct 5) where you can buy originals. For those with a more modest purse she also mentioned that Sainsbury’s have a Folk Tales range at very affordable prices.

Both keen to see the British Folk Art exhibition at the Tate, we went independently and without conferring both came away with the same overall impression, disappointing!

There are some exquisite pieces that represent British Folk Art at its best: quilts, patchworks, corn dollies, sailor’s pincushions, figureheads from ships. We both loved the carved and constructed signs that were hung outside shops at a time when much of the population was illiterate. The shoes outside the cobblers, the padlock and key of the locksmith, the giant sized top hat were all a joy in their individual whimsical fashion.

The whole idea of putting any thing with the word ‘Folk’ on at the Tate, appears to be quite revolutionary and has had much criticism from the art cognoscenti. If you look at work of some of the YBA group, much of it could be described as Folk Art.

The exhibition is bitty and misses out so much. Where are the rag rugs, a folk art that has been pursued in many different areas of the uk for centuries? Where was the shell craft beloved by Victorians? Where was Decoupage? Where is the canal, caravan and fairground art? Why was so much space given to the needle paintings of Mary Linwood (1755-1845)? Her work consists of imitations in thread of old masters. Yes they have a place in the exhibition, but not much of one. This was a missed opportunity. To quote the exhibition booklet:

“ Folk art is a prolific as well as complicated concept. There are innumerable objects and images that can be considered under the heading; no single exhibition can properly claim to represent them all. “


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