Our collection contains dozens of old vintage Mexican masks and other ethnographic art mostly from Guerrero, Mexico. Many of the masks and other ethnographic artifacts were purchased at the Ohio Ethnographic gallery in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1988, curiously; known for the selectivity of the work they showed and offered. This vintage wood crucifix has the original lime based paint and nails, some paint has worn away with age. It has a hairline crack in the green decorative piece, as depicted. Otherwise, it is a beautiful old example of the carving style of this geographical area of Mexico. Cheaper, more recent work from Guerrero, and Oaxaca, and Michoaca may be available elsewhere however, the tourist industry is resulting in production methods and stylization diminishing both the overall quality including character and value.
Measurements: 24″ x 15″ x 8″
We purchased this beautiful artifact at an antique dealer’s booth in Cincinnati in the middle 80s. It is a handmade assemblage the dealer purchased while in Ecuador years before its sale. As an assemblage, each element carries special meaning and spirit. The back comprised of wood contains some tiny holes inhabited, long ago, by some burrowing insect. There is also a bent nail from which it was probably originally hung on a wall; from which a raffia-like cord is strung, perhaps for a later use? The base is the means by which we have displayed it for, now, decades. The front of the wood is wrapped with a very old piece of paper on which it is printed “PULIVITIN” ? The Virgin, behind glass, is a printed piece on which the maker has applied several reflective cutout shapes.The frame is painted the same color as the VIrgin’s robe. There is an old nail which juts out from base as an anchoring device. It exudes such adoration, it conveys significant cultural and historical interest.
Measurements: 9.5″ x 4.5″ x 1″ (Base 2.5″ deep)
Although chalkware is a generic term for the material from which the decorative objects and accessories were made, they are actual made from plaster of Paris. Chalkware first appeared in the U.S. late in the 18th century. Popularized between the 1920s and 1940s, it was viewed as a cheaper alternative to more expensive ceramics and porcelain, chalkware enabled average consumers to purchase affordable copies. The pieces were created by first pouring plaster in to negative or cavity molds. After the plaster was hardened, the mold was removed and the chalky white unfinished piece was then painted by an employed finish “artist” with watercolors or enamel paints. The paint was another characteristic that distinguishes pricier ceramics with applied glazes from the painted chalkware alternative. Piggy banks, wall plaques, statues, smaller figurines, match holders, as well as highly collectible “string heads” were stylistically designed to add to their unique charm. Because of the nature of mold casts and the skill of the individual decorators or finish artists, each piece was idiosyncratic. Some chalkware is known as carnival chalkware, many pieces from this genre were based on characters and icons from popular culture of the times. Some pieces were meant as shelf or cabinet curios, while larger pieces could be displayed on the floor.
The pieces known by collectors as string heads, wall plaques, and wall pockets were always hung on walls. String heads were most often molded in the shape of a human head, their characters may have been based on real or fictional people, or in some cases storybook characters. While they were being made, a wire loop was partially embedded in the back of the plaster. String heads were indispensable prior to tape for securing packages. One would wrap the package in paper and conveniently dispense, cut sections, and knot the string or cord from the string head mounted on the wall. Regardless of their ornamental appeal, the demands of use, particularly true of string heads, meant the piece was frequently removed from the wall to replace the ball of string. Because plaster is inherently fragile, many examples of this type of popular commercial product, now appreciated as a form of folk art, were broken or chipped, showing distinct signs of wear during their use and often discarded.
Our collection of string heads and other chalkware is figural as is most of our folk art collection. The pieces were discovered at flea markets, antique stores and shows, during our travels in the mid 1980s. These, among others, are displayed as a group in the kitchen of our loft studio, guest always congregate in the kitchen and the string heads are always conversation pieces.
Even the term whirligig escapes the serious intent of the weathervane which was originally developed as a utilitarian device to predict weather. A whirligig has always been perceived as a toy or product of someone’s whimsy for pleasure. Most whirligigs could be divided into two types, windmills or figures. Rather than silhouette style weathervanes, single figure, full body whirligigs were carved from a singular piece of wood. Of those whirligigs based on the human form, there are several genres into which they may be categorized. Their differences relate to the whirling mechanisms, the position of the arms, and how they relate to their wind catching paddles. Many figural whirligigs, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries themes and characters depicted figures of authority and significance. Included among such professions would have been soldiers, sailors, statesmen often on horses, and well dressed business and craftsmen. Whirligigs based on the windmill form are as diverse as the imaginations of their creators. This is evidenced by, among others, renowned folk artists David Butler and Vollis Simpson. Born in 1919, Mr. Simpson’s phantasmagorical whirling environment is located on his brother’s property, in Wilson, North Carolina. His vocation and interest in heavy machinery resulted in massive whirligigs, actually wind driven sculptural pieces, as tall as 40 feet. Born in 1898, New Orleans, Louisiana, self taught artist David Butler’s pieces were more often made of re-purposed remnants of tin metal, wood, and plastic with paint. Whether for utilitarian function or pure pleasure, wind driven weathervanes and whirligigs have become prized American collectibles with often staggering sales figures at galleries, estate sales, and auction houses particularly in the Ohio, Pennsylvania and open and down the East Coast.
Whirligig with Witch and Horse, 1918, by Charlie Burnham (dates unknown). Folk art in the Smithsonian American Art Museum (National Portrait Gallery), Washington, DC, USA.
Whirligig with Woman Churning and Man Sawing, 1920s, artist unknown. Folk art in the Smithsonian American Art Museum (National Portrait Gallery), Washington, DC, USA.