Currently, many categories of antiques and vintage objects are either low-priced or don’t sell at all. That isn’t the case when it comes to early folk art and “outsider art.”
Though largely unappreciated before the 1940s, this category can go for high prices in recent decades. When the folk art collection of Bud and Judy Newman came to the recent Pook & Pook auction, estimates were high. Outsider art has made its way to big city galleries. Museums are adding it to their collections.
Surprisingly, many people may have examples of valuable folk art and don’t even know it. Basically, folk art is something made by hand by a non-professionally trained artisan. This covers a lot of ground and many of the objects have their own categories. For example, some paintings, crocks with hand-painted motifs and whirligigs also have their own categories.
And, what about 20th-century “outsider art?” How does it differ from folk art? The difference, perhaps, may be in the artist’s use of “found” materials, such as creating a sculpture from tin bottle caps. The common denominator for all is that they were done by untrained American artists.
CLUES: Is everything worth collecting under the folk-art label? Certainly it has to be a matter of taste whether you want a collection of wood carvings or paintings.
Recently, when going through some family souvenirs, I came across a small, painted, wood carving of a pumpkin and a witch. It was done by my now-adult son, decades ago. It is signed with his initials. Let’s assume that in a few years it finds its way to an antique shop, where it is sold as folk art or to a Halloween collector. After all, it is primitive and done by an untrained artist!
Many years ago I did my one and only estate sale. The late owner had a talent for making whirligigs. In the basement, I discovered five painted red, white and blue, figural whirligigs. They had been done in the 1940s from a pattern. Dealers snapped them up like crazy for the $10 asking price. Fast-forward 10 years. A Chicago dealer was selling one of them as 19th-century folk art, priced at $600.
Many of the pricey outsider objects these days are by documented artists such as Howard Finster and African-American artists such as Purvis Young. In the folk art category, artists may or may not be known to sell for thousands of dollars. My best advice is to get certification documents from the seller before paying too much.