Folk Art carving by Erskine Brown
Sim Salata - Collections Manager

Art of the People

Sim Salata - Collections Manager

In mid-November, Grey Roots Museum and Archives will present its winter/spring collections-based exhibition, I Made It Myself – Folk Art of Grey County. In this exhibition, objects from the Grey Roots Museum and Archives’ collection of permanent artefacts, from other Grey County museums and from private collections have been chosen for what they can tell us about the people and cultures that created them and left them to us.   Some were brought with immigrants and settlers from “the old country” – places like Germany and England – when they came to Grey County in order to make better lives for themselves. Through this art, Grey County can be seen as a microcosm of the larger settlement pattern of Ontario and Canada – one tiny piece of the mosaic quilt that makes the country at large.

Featured in the exhibit are several Grey County folk artists including Thornbury’s Erskine Brown, Owen Sound’s John Capel and Stanley King, North Kepple’s Earl Cole, Hanover’s George Myers and Sydenham Township’s Elwood Snider as well as countless unknown First Nation artists represented in traditional craft.

Opinions of what constitutes “folk art” are wide and varied. Common to most definitions, however, is that folk art is art created by untrained people (non-professional artists) and originates from, and is specific to, a particular culture. Folk art is marked by high decoration, bright bold colours, immediacy of meaning, and the use of strong forms in simple arrangements. It tends to be utilitarian rather than purely aesthetic, and is art in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective (which are learned with formal training) are often absent.

Folk art spans medium. Paintings, sculpture, basketry, utensils, furniture, models, needlework, textiles and even interior decoration of walls and floors, were made by peasants, seamen, soldiers, farmers, country artisans, itinerant artists, peddlers and tradespeople with no formal training. Some objects are serious religious teaching tools. Others are documentary portraits of people at a particular time in their lives. Some are mementos of friends and family living and deceased. Some are purely flights of fancy.

Folk art mirrors the basic ideas that regulate lifestyles, and may be based in religion, patriotic affection for king and country, satisfaction with daily living or appreciation for nature. Folk art is sometimes described as “primitive,” for the artists are untrained, work by instinct, and deal in a simple way with the basic truths as known to ordinary people.

Settled later than most of Ontario, the art that came to Grey County with immigrants shows the cultures and values of settlers from Britain, Europe and America. They came to Grey in search of peace, stability, money, love, and hopes for their futures and their children’s futures, bringing with them pieces of “home” – items that were made by their forebears.

Objects that were created in Grey County were created for a variety of reasons: In order to decorate the home, pass the time, record history and declining rural traditions and methods of working, to remember a culture left behind in another country, to support oneself economically, to express one’s opinions and artistic ideas, to show off one’s skills, or to advertise a businesses in a time when mass-production was just not an option.

We hope that you will visit Grey Roots for this exhibition which will run from November 2015 to May 2016 and come away with an opinion of what folk art is – above all, it is “art of the people.” Please check our website at for more information.

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