One of the things I love about travel and the cultural experiences it offers is that there is a multitude of places to see folk art all around the world. In case you’re wondering what folk art is, it is art that is created by an indigenous people or a region and is representative of their culture. Much remains anonymous but some folk artists go on to achieve great acclaim, such as Grandma Moses (USA) and Albert Namatjira (Australia). I’m picking out some places to see folk art around the world but you should be able to find it in most destinations your travels take you.
It’s hard to encapsulate Chinese folk art because this massive country has such great regional variety. Recognized as one of the best places to see folk art in China, however, is the Guangdong Folk Art Museum in Guangzhou Province. It is actually a huge art academy and temple. Its 19 structures cover a large area and the buildings themselves are their own magnificent display of folk art and decorating techniques. Visitors can enjoy a dazzling array of pottery, plasterwork, iron engraving and carvings in wood, stone and brick.
I think art from Mexico has a very distinct look that tells you immediately it is Mexican, and probably nothing is more so obviously Mexican than Alebrije. There had been a very long tradition of wood carving crafts in Oaxaca but inspired by the illness-induced dreams of Pedro Linares, the carvers began to run out amazing and fantastical creatures in bright colors and lurid and gaudy combinations. Today you can find Alebrije on practically every street corner in Oaxaca state and though most are made from wood, some are also fashioned from papier-mȃché.
There are places to see folk art of the Aboriginal people of Australia all over the country. Most decent sized towns have a gallery or museum of Aboriginal art but much of it is modern and is created as art rather than coming from an ancient cultural practice. The best places to see Aboriginal art are definitely those sites outdoors – the ancient rock art and paintings. Sites are plentiful all over Australia but if you want to see something totally incredible, it has to be the cave paintings of Nawarla Gabarbmang in the Northern Territories, which are currently recorded as being the oldest examples of this ancient form of expression. They are an incredible 28,000 years old!
No one really knows the origins of Welsh Love Spoons but we know for sure they were presented by men as tokens of affection. Carved from a single piece of wood, love spoons are extremely intricate in design. It is thought that not only did the spoons indicate their maker’s love but also the more detailed the design and the more effort made, the deeper the love involved. The first recorded love spoon dates back to at least the 16th century but the craft is preserved today among modern carvers. The tradition has been updated in that love spoons are now gifted for special occasions such as birthdays, christenings, anniversaries, and of course, weddings. The biggest collection of Welsh Love Spoons can be seen at the Welsh National Museum in Cardiff.
There are many ancient crafts in India and one of the most recognizable is Madhubani painting. It is also known as Mithila painting because it originates from and is mainly practiced in the Mithila region of northeastern state of Bihar. Characterized by eye-catching geometrical patterns, the paintings are made from natural dyes and pigments applied with anything, including brushes, fingers, twigs, nib pens, quills and matchsticks. These beautiful works of art are created for all personal religious occasions and festivals and can be seen in the town of Madhubani and many villages in its surrounding region.
Much of the art of Africa is classified as primitive, naïve or tribal. Many of the huge number of tribes have their own distinctions expressed in the colors, patterns and materials of their everyday items such as pottery, textiles and furniture. Many tribes also have wood carvings with distinct forms (usually because they are ritualistic) as well as carved wooden masks. An interest in these ethnic arts means there are many places to see folk art all over Africa, but it is in Kenya where the experience is most touristic and accessible. The town of Lamu is guaranteed to provide you with a stunning showcase of Swahili art.
The National Museum of Native Americans, which is part of the Smithsonian Institute, is a fitting tribute to the indigenous people of the USA but it is overwhelming because it covers all aspects of the culture and life. If you want to get up close and personal with the art of Native Americans, head to the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. With extensive collections spread over two separate sites in the city, the Heard mainly concentrates on the American Indian tribes of the South West and presents exhibitions of pottery, carvings and paintings.
Wherever you travel to or take a vacation there are places to see folk art. The soukhs of the Middle East, the bazaars of Turkey, the craft markets of Europe, for example, are all filled with crafts that are, in fact, folk art. And then there are community arts and crafts centers all over the world that are open to visitors. When you travel do you like to seek out the local folk art?
Please rate this article