Thursday, November 18, 2021

American Guides: American Folk Arts


When I was young and gas was 25 cents a gallon and
 pick-ups got 10 mpg we just drove and drove.
I always packed a WPA guide from the library.

Written during the 1930s by underemployed writers,
these books captured a view of America
and a backroads route plan.

You'd learn a little history, a lot of geography and you could follow their tours.

Because we were reading them 50 years after they
were published we were sometimes disappointed to
find the item of local interest no longer standing.

Lucy the elephant building in New Jersey

Although one often came upon a wonder and the tours did get you off the interstate.

So I enjoyed Scott Borchert's recent book about the guide books
following him into many of his own detours.

Like this summary of the rise of interest in folk arts and the Colonial Revival through the twenties and thirties. But that interest was changing, too, 
"morphing into a more capacious fascination with the everyday stuff of American life and the idea of a distinctive American culture. It's permutations were visible in the collection and study of folk materials...."

Quilt dated 1822 by George E. Rhone

Attitudes that gave rise to another W.P.A. project The
Index of American Design, which hired artists to paint
watercolors of quilts in the late 1930s.

The Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art has many of the paintings
on line and they add to the database.

Baltimore album by Lillian Causey

We take an interest in the art of the folk so for granted. I found it fascinating to consider the origins and changes over the generations.


  1. The WPA Guides are fascinating--when they can be found.

  2. Oh thank you for the Scott Borchert book reference. I have a few of the guides and I look forward to reading his take on the project. I remember someone had a few of these WPA quilt painting prints at an AQSG seminar years (and years) ago. I was fascinated as it was the first time I had seen any. Thanks again for spewing out so much info in such a short space!

  3. I always learn so much from your blog posts. Thank you! I had no idea artists were hired to make watercolor paintings of quilts.