June 25, 2003
Tramp Art Comes to Colonial Williamsburg
Was the curious genre of American folk art known as “tramp art” dependent upon the use of cigar boxes? And was it actually made by “tramps?” Come see Colonial Williamsburg’s exciting new display of “Tramp Art and More!” at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum for the answer to these and other fascinating questions. This unusual exhibition will be on view to the public through Sept. 4, 2004.
Five examples of chip carving – the principal design technique in tramp art -- make up the display, which includes the magnificent Cheval Glass created by Pennsylvania native David W. Fox. Fox, who was known for his original carvings, began his work in 1896 and completed the project eight and one half years later. His piece is noteworthy for its notch carving, which sets off the other carved elements of the frame, as well as the fact that the glass is held in place by thin boards recycled from the crate in which the mirror originally was shipped.
Other objects in the exhibition include a picture frame, a miniature roll-top desk and two combination mirror and comb boxes.
The booming cigar industry of the late 19th and early 20th century did, in fact, provide a ready supply of materials that could be used to create the works that today are known collectively as tramp art. “The practice of saving old cigar boxes and packing crates and carving them into useful and decorative items has been likened to the tradition of quilting, whereby 19th-century women saved scraps of fabric and later pieced them together,” said Jan Gilliam, Colonial Williamsburg’s associate curator for exhibits and toys, and curator of the exhibition. “Chip carving required few tools and little training, and men with spare time in the evenings created wonderfully layered objects that decorated the homes of family and friends, and complemented the Victorian décor in many houses of the period.”
The award winning Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is one of the world-class museums belonging to Colonial Williamsburg, the largest living history museum in the country. The folk art museum is the first U.S. institution devoted exclusively to collecting, exhibiting and researching American folk art. Located on South England Street across from the Williamsburg Lodge, it is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is included in any Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or by separate one-day or annual museums ticket. For program information, call (757) 220-7698.