Monday, July 14, 2014

Tramp Art (1900's-1940's Americana Knickknacks)

Good morning!

How's your Monday? The day's moving by like molasses over here at the library, but the better to tell you about vintage stuff with, my dears. :) This weekend, I was looking at a local vintage shop's instagram when the following picture made my heart skip a little beat. Have you ever! Seen so beautiful! A lamp in your whole life! You may have, but I know I have not:
Savant Vintage...I'm coming for you. And this lamp. I hope it's not $1,000,000
UHHHM! What a sight for sore eyes! The color and the texture and the ordinary-turned-extraordinary of this marbles-and-Popsicle-sticks craft confection is making me want to throw caution to the wind and install it in my office, toute de suite. What are we looking at though, folks? I know from my obsessive thumbing through titles like Outsider Art and The Complete Book of Retro Crafts that this lamp has its roots in a collectibles genre called "tramp art". I immediately call to mind David Carradine in either Bound for Glory or Boxcar Bertha, a poetic rambler riding the rails, living outside of society, and taking time to whittle a cigar box here and there. In case I was wrong, I decided to look through the internet for more concrete examples and explanations of the the delightful art pieces.

From a website appropriately named
What is Tramp Art?
Tramp art is an art movement found throughout the world where small pieces of wood, primarily from discarded cigar boxes and shipping crates, are whittled into layers of geometric patterns having the outside edges of each layer notch carved. The artists used simple tools such as a pocketknife to carve the recycled wood. It was popular in the years between the 1870s to the 1940s after which the art form started to decline. It was made in prodigious numbers. The most common forms were the box and the frame. Although there were no rules or patterns to lend commonality in the artists’ work there were objects made in every conceivable shape and size including full sized furniture and objects of whimsy.
So you don't actually have to be Oklahoma Red/Wallace Beery in Beggars of Life to make tramp art, but because of the easily obtained, discarded materials, it would be feasible that you could make this kind of stuff whatever your station in life. One of my chief gripes about modern day crafting is how much money you often have to lay out to get started in jewelry/felting/needlepoint/whatever. This stuff, if you have a pocket knife, a piece of an orange crate, and some artistic vision, you can make some pretty amazing stuff.

Check out what I was able to find online (ebay, Etsy wise, anyway). You'd better believe I'll be looking for similar pieces out in the wild:

Folk Tramp Art Cigar Band Glass Bowl
I love how packaging in the first half of the 20th century was just better. These are made from cigar bands, and you'd only have to smoke about 66 stogies to get a high quality piece of collage art like the piece above (for Al Swearingen, that's like half a day's worth of puffing). Another piece of tobaccoania this non-smoker is into are those tobacco silk quilts and filmland tobacco cards-- again, you're lucky if you can get a coupon towards future merchandise, much less beautiful, printed pieces of silk or cards of your favorite movie stars along with purchased item these days. Still, for pure, horror vacui loveliness, I am really into this bowl.

1930's Tramp Art Hand Mirror, Nice wood tramp art mirror.
Doesn't this hand mirror look like something they'd have at World Market right now? The woodburning process is also termed in some of these listings as "pyrography", which may sound like a mid 90's alternative cd, but is actually just any kind of wood decoration through controlled burning

Antique tramp art crucifix with hanging metal Christ suspended on carved wooden cross with emblems

I'm not much for collecting religious iconography, but this crucifix is beautiful.

1930s Vintage Tramp Art Pyrography Dresser Top Lamp, Primitive Folk Art Red Fringe Wood Lamp

Now we're talking! I just love looking at each of these and thinking of someone's grandfather being like, "You want a what! I can make you one of those! Gimme some time, I'll make you one up in the garage", and setting to the task of diligently creating whatever kind of decorative art the fairer sex saw as necessary for setting up housekeeping. "You wanted a lamp, here's you a lamp!" See how it comes complete with little drawers for keeping knickknacks in and built in picture frames?
Bottle Cap Lady Tramp Art Carmen Miranda Style
Now, this bottle cap lady I actually remember from the Retro Crafts book. However, if you can get a couple hundred thousand more bottle caps, you can dream big and think outside the house in terms of what to do with these discarded pop tops, à la this Russian woman and her bottle cap house. You heard me. HOUSE. It's amazing, too. How about this snaky basket made out of bottle caps? Start drinking now!

American TRAMP Folk ART Hand Made Bottle CAP Basket 

Vintage Folk Art Cigarette Wrapper Purse 
Remember when making purses out of Capri Sun pouches and Levi jeans and every other kind of thing was the latest fashion trend, circa 1998? Here's its non-PC precursor,  the cigarette wrapper purse. I've also seen wallets like this made out of Juicy Fruit and other gum wrappers. I should learn something like this to pass slow moving lunch hours at my desk (as if my desk needed to look more like a kitsch trash heap than it already does...).

More cigar band decoupaging. I'm telling you, I need one of these things in my life:

Decoupage CIGAR BAND LABEL Tray Tobacco Tramp Folk Art
I was particularly attracted to this heart shaped wooden shield with the name "Carmela" carved into it. I see so many things like this where someone's tried to make something look old and hand hewn like this, and it's a night and day difference between the imitated and the imitator.
AAAH! ANOTHER MARBLE LAMP! Maybe there's hope for me yet!!

Vintage Folk Tramp Art Popsicle Sticks Marbles Table Lamp
There were lots, and lots, and LOTS of boxes, as you could imagine, but this one was the prettiest to me (and has one of the most intense price tags..YEEKS, people). I love how the texture of the wood plays of the shape of the box and the little velvet and brass inlays.

Exquisite Tramp Art Ornately Decorated Box
This is probably something more like I could actually make, minus the lettering. Doesn't it make you want to scrabble through your junk drawer at home and just paint everything gilt? I know I have geometrical whatnots every which way but loose in my, to formulate them into a plan...

San Francisco Exposition 1915-Folk Art -Tramp Art
This one looks more like a birdhouse to me, if said bird lived in an Indonesian temple:

Antique American TRAMP Art Wood BOX

And last but not least, this just may be some folk art, but I loved the display of it on black velvet, with a red velvet matte, with the gold frame. So turn of the century and so ornate and so something I need to have in my house. Now, the same thing, but with the rosettes in the shape of a bird or a tiger or a human face. Let's get on this!

Victorian Antique Paper Tramp Art Cross Folk Art Naïve Flower Frame
You can see more examples of tramp art here, and here, but the one I really want to see is that marble lamp in next to my computer at home. The lovely glow it would give off! How happy I would be!

How about you? Have you had your interest piqued by any collectibles lately? Which of these tramp art pieces are your favorite? Have any hand-hewn heirlooms in your family or in your personal collection? Tell me all about it!

That's all for today, but I'll be back tomorrow with more vintage tips and quips. Have a great Monday! See you then!


  1. I love all of it!!! Good luck with the lamp; it is so fun finding pieces that you know will stay with you forever!

    1. I never did get out there last week! BUT THIS WEEK...#maybethistime :D

  2. Is the lamp really carved?! Or is it more of a Popsicle stick contraption?!

    1. I think it's popsicle sticks on top of popsicle sticks on top of popsicle sticks! Technically my tramp art definition would only apply to the notched boxes, but sometimes they extend it to other (weirder, wackier, wilder!) styles of art. I still hope I can nab that dang lamp, because, LOOK AT IT. So beautiful!

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