Folk art. What the heck is it, anyway? Consider these examples:
• Paintings of soft, shadowy foothills dotted with traditional white farmhouses. Weathered red barns tilted haphazardly on broad patches of green and gold hay fields.
If you goWhat: Autumn Country Folk Art Festival
When: 6-10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21; 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 22
Where: Robinson Hall, Kane County Fairgrounds, 525 Randall Road, between Route 64 (North Avenue) and Roosevelt Road (Route 38), one mile west of downtown St. Charles. Free parking.
Tickets: $8 Friday, $6 Saturday, $4 Sunday. Children younger than 15 attend free. Ask about group rates. Admission is good all weekend.
Other details: Homemade food and refreshments; handicapped accessible; strollers allowed.
Ÿ 6-10 p.m. Friday: WGN Radio personality Orion Samuelson signs copies of his memoir "You Can't Dream Big Enough'' (Bantry Bay Books; $25).
Ÿ 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday: Jim Van Hoven of Period Windsor Chairs and Accessories builds a chair.
Ÿ 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday: Fiber artist Natasha Lehrer of Esther's Place presents continuous booth demonstrations and mini-classes.
Ÿ 2 p.m. Saturday: "Establishing and Expanding a Folk Art Collection," a lecture by interior designer Janet Kreig. Representative pieces of her collection are on exhibit. Free with $6 show admission; reservations recommended by calling (815) 772-3279.
For more information: Call Robin Reed, Art of the Heartland, Inc., (815) 772-3279 or artoftheheartlandinc.com
-- Artist/author Will Moses
• Turning a chunk of white cedar into a spooky Halloween ghoul, a futuristic Lady Liberty, monks, mermaids, eagles or gaunt renditions of Father Christmas.
-- Wood sculptor Tony Costanza
• Using thread to "paint" complex, colorful scenes on fabric.
-- Punch needle embroidery designer Nancee Ariagno
• Transforming the brittle rind of inedible gourds into whimsical animals, objects and settings that make people chuckle.
-- Artist Alan Baker
See these creations and others created by prominent folk artisans at the 31st annual Autumn Country Folk Art Festival Friday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 22 at Kane County Fairgrounds. The festival is a juried market offering an opportunity to meet some of America's finest creative artisans on hand to show and sell their work. The event is produced by Art of the Heartland, Inc.
Folk art represents a variety of work by unschooled or largely self-taught craftsmen or artisans. Often characterized by a naive or primitive style that lacks traditional proportion and perspective, it may be specific to a culture. Or mimic fine art. Sometimes it is utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic. Or it can be just about anything its creator wants it to be.
While not represented at The Country Folk Art Festival, another category called "outsider art" comes from beyond society's mainstream -- prisoners, mentally challenged and other untrained folks whose work is not made to sell.
Moses' new work
Basically self-taught from age 4, the great-grandson of legendary Grandma Moses won't pigeonhole art or artists in one category.
"All art borrows and steals from other art resulting in a bleed over from one style or technique to another," says Will Moses, whose latest painting, "Come Blow Your Horn" (depicting Little Boy Blue lying down on the job) will be introduced at the Country Folk Art Festival.
Moses was born and raised in Eagle Bridge, a small upstate New York community near the Vermont border. The artist's Mt. Nebo Gallery is in the 200-year-old farmhouse in which his great-grandmother began her career. It is the setting in which he paints vivid images of villagers engaged in simple, charming, everyday pastimes. And where he writes and illustrates whimsical tales for children.
Advice from a master
Like Moses, prolific wood sculptor Tony Costanza has never had a formal lesson. And doesn't recommend them.
"Don't take one. And don't buy a book. You'll copy the style, then can't break it," he says.
Calling Costanza's work "cute" is a no-no. He hates the word. Along with "craft" and, even "folk art," the very genre in which he works.
"It's a self-taught approximation of perceived reality but the term has been overused to include anything handmade," he says.
Costanza taught Spanish and Italian in a Chicago area high school for 19 years before quitting in 1990 to move to rural Wisconsin where he carves out a living producing thousands of wooden Santas and hundreds of witches and goblins for high-profile collectors including the Archbishop of Warsaw and an unnamed oil baron's heiress.
Needle eye's view
When Nancee Ariagno retired from a long career as an award-winning interior designer she sought the instant gratification of punch needle embroidery. Her designs quickly became a hit at needlework stores nationwide and in leading magazines. Living in "The Cooperage," an 1860s historic house in Cedarburg, Wis., she calls her business Flew the Coop. Her studio is in the farmhouse gallery on the grounds of the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts where she has also taught.
Using one's medium of choice for unique self-expression is Ariagno's view of folk art.
"It's all about how people see the world -- how they interpret it. Some are serious. Some are primitive and lack formal education. Just look at the American West, the pottery of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico and the Hopi Pueblos in Arizona."
Oh, good gourd!
Alan Baker's gig with gourds is his father's doing. Every year at harvest time, the senior Baker (a farmer at heart) brings Alan a bushel of the inedible veggies.
If not reined in, they take over his Chicago studio. Not wanting to offend dad by tossing them, Alan started whittling. Typical painted birdhouses tamed some of the crop. Then Alan soon began sensing the animals and figures hidden within the gourds' organic shapes, blatantly challenging him for release.
"I now see them as part of the whole. I incorporate other materials -- wood, clay and fiber, combine these elements to form whimsical animals, people, things and folky situations."
Folk art is alive
Like all art, folk pieces speak to the collector.
Will Moses considers some pieces more alive than traditional paintings that may be technical masterpieces but lack emotional story, quality or, more importantly, creativity.
"Think how much more interesting the Mona Lisa might be if she had a pimple," he suggests.
These artisans represent the tip of the iceberg at The Country Folk Art Festival.
You will also be able to watch Jim Van Hoven demonstrate his expertise in hand-carved Windsor chairs. And see Bill Morse treat a chair to a new cane seat. Sample Chef Terry Heinrich's heavenly infused oils and vinegars in unexpected ways. Or see Joanna Bolton's papier māche and clay figurines and Mary Henegan's hand-painted signs. The list goes on.