November 14th, 2009
Woodland Beauty, my first attempt at painting.
Oil on wax paper, early 1970’s
What does this mean to me? I just finished a juried show which lists me as a juried artist in acrylics and watercolors. My booth had an assortment of both mediums. As people came by the booth, I introduced myself by saying something like,
“Welcome, I have traditional style folk art and watercolors. Depending on how I feel on a given day, I may choose to do a fine art style of painting or a traditional style of folk art. I have mostly American and German styles represented here. Enjoy your browsing and let me know if I can answer any questions.”
I watched as some people focused on the prints and watercolors, and other zoomed in on the folk art. Then I heard the dreaded, oh, she does tole painting, comment. Now that used to frustrate me, anger me, or leave me feeling less than adaquate as a painter. However, I finally realized that most people have no clue about the different styles of folk art, the similarities and the differences between the styles. The comment was my problem, not theirs,so as a result I have decided to share my thoughts and a little history of painting with you, my blog followers. I hope you will at the very least enjoy my pennings, and perhaps even learn a little bit more about who I am and where I have come from.
When I first picked up a paintbrush in the 70’s, it belonged to my college roommate. I doubt that she had any idea that her leaving her “tole painting class” supplies and instructions on our coffee table would launch a career for me, but that is where the painting bug bit me. My mom had done ceramics and decorated plaster molded items as had many women of her age group. As the ceramics hobby market became flooded, a new group of painters emerged. Tole painting in the 70’s was the hot new craft on the market. Priscilla Hauser was the one painter who caught me eye.
Time passed for me and I found myself a newlywed in a new home, new town, new state and away from everything familiar. I arose one morning and prepared breakfast for my husband and I, cleaned up the kitchen, and immediatly set the table for supper, and wondered what I would do from that point on. That movers had gone, the house was basically in order, I had no job, no friends, and my husband had gone to work. I remembered painting , so I found my way to the local craft store and bought a book by Priscilla Hauser( For Whom The Bell Tolls). I opened it up, read the supply list and purchased the supplies. The store clerk suggested I take a class, but no, I thought why spend money on classes. Everything I needed was in the book. I went home and began painting everything in the book….on wax paper. I couldn’t afford any surfaces after putting all my money into the book and supplies.
Long story short is the local teacher was my new neighbor, so she was called by the store (who recognized the address proximity by my checks) and I made my first painting friend. Lola Jacks came patiently to my home daily to encourage me, and eventually won me over to being a student in her classes.
Tole painting at that time was apples, strawberries, daisies, grapes, cute little people, comma strokes, etc. Drawing was not taught much, but instead you traced a pattern, applied it to your prepared surface, and used the brushes and paint colors the instructor suggested. It was so easy (the ads said) that anyone could do it. I like many others found great joy in creating that which we had never thought could be done by untrained, and untalented painters. Looking back I can see the design influences of early American folk artist such as Peter Ompir in a lot of the designs, but they were simple and cute, but they lacked depth. The work was done in oils, and we painted on anything that stood still. My first paintings not on wax paper were on soup cans (made great pencil and brush holders), and old wood pieces I found at thrift shops. I still look for old pieces to paint on, that hasn’t changed, but now the designs are not as cutsie and usually more detailed. The Tole painters became Decorative painters and a new confidence has risen. Instructions are becoming more technique oriented and less project oriented, but that’s another subject.
Back to tole painting:
I have always been taught that Tole Painting by definition is painting on tin as tole is French for tin, but the term tole painting has become synonomous with decorative painting of almost any style and on a lot of surfaces that were not tin or even metal.
Wikipedia has the following article on Tole Painting:
Tole painting is the folk art of decorative painting on tin and wooden utensils, objects and furniture. Typical metal objects include utensils, coffee pots, and similar household items. Wooden objects include tables, chairs, and chests, including hope chests, toyboxes and jewelry boxes.
The practice began in 18th century New England, and was also extensively carried on among German immigrants in Pennsylvania. A separate, related tradition occurs among Scandinavian countries and immigrants, including Norwegians, Danes and Swedes. German tole painting may concentrate more on metal and tin objects, while Scandinavian may concentrate more on wooden objects and furniture. Patterns in the two traditions vary slightly as well.
Modern tole painting typically uses inexpensive, long-lasting and sturdy acrylic paints. Good quality wooden work is sealed, primed and sanded before the decorative paint is applied.
The most beloved family objects tend to be high quality utensils or furniture, painted freehand with favorite patterns, colors or flowers, humorous themes, family in-jokes, or illustrations of favorite or family stories. The perceived value of a tolled utensil increases with its quality as a utensil, the quality of the art, and the personalization, the story, of the work.
An advantage of tole painting as a craft is that a bad painting can be sanded off and repainted. One of the signs of such repaintings is a black-backgrounded tole-painted object. Very often such objects are repainted, especially if the furniture or utensil is valuable and the painter is inexperienced.