British Folk Art, Tate Britain

It’s hard to know how to define the term ‘Folk Art’, the subject of a current exhibition at London’s Tate Britain. It is often created by self-trained artists, although I should think many of its makers would not think of themselves as artists. Some of it could be described as ‘craft’ as opposed to ‘high art’, but many of the objects in the exhibition were created using incredible skill and effort. A number of the pieces on show were linked with local traditions and customs. Some of them are downright bizarre. But, as you have probably guessed, a fair few of them were also pretty magical.

A wall of shop signs in British Folk Art at Tate Britain

A wall of shop signs in British Folk Art at Tate Britain

The show gets off to a great start with an impressive yellow wall lined with a selection of shop signs of all shapes, sizes and dates. One takes the form of a giant shoe, fashioned and stitched perfectly from leather just like its normal-sized counterparts. A wonderfully enigmatic sun hangs at the top of the display, looking down on the gallery visitors with a hint of a smile.

A cockerel fashioned from mutton bones in British Folk Art, Tate Britain

A cockerel fashioned from mutton bones in British Folk Art, Tate Britain

Another highlight of British Folk Art is a beautiful life-size cockerel created out of mutton bones by French prisoners of war during the Napoleonic era. Each of its feathers is intricately and individually carved, transforming the most basic material into something lively and enchanting.

A straw effigy of King Alfred in British Folk Art, Tate Britain

A straw effigy of King Alfred in British Folk Art, Tate Britain

Definitely the most extraordinary object in the exhibition is this life-size straw effigy of King Alfred. Reminiscent of the terrifying final scene in cult classic The Wicker Man, it’s hard to get a sense of just how imposing and spooky this figure is without encountering it in person. All the more reason to check out British Folk Art at Tate Britain, and experience a branch of the arts that, despite generally being overlooked, often retains an ancient, even mystical sense of wonder.

An iron shop sign in the shape of a sun from British Folk Art, Tate Britain

An iron shop sign in the shape of a sun from British Folk Art, Tate Britain

Details on visiting British Folk Art can be found here.
All images copyright the Tate.

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2 Responses to “British Folk Art, Tate Britain”

  1. I had no idea there are straw effigies of King Alfred, how fascinating. I recently did a post on how he became almost a political symbol in the eighteenth century: http://bit.ly/SXnvK8

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