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Decorating: On the Trail of Tramp Art

Tramp art is an eclectic mix of detail and rough cuts; both simple and complex.

Tramp art is a lesser-known form of folk art that flourished in the late 1800s through the late 1930s. It was not recognized as a style until the 1950s when the original crafters were no longer providing works.

Tramp art pieces were made from wood, usually from cigar boxes and crates, which were in abundance at the turn of the century. Each of these pieces was carved and notched, usually by the use of pocketknife, hence other names such as nick carving, chip art, and even whittling. They were then layered and hand-glued to create geometrically-carved frames, ornaments, boxes, small shelves, and even furniture.

There is some confusion as to the origin of tramp art. Some believe that it was itinerant Scandinavians who began carving castoff cigar boxes in exchange for lodging. There is also proof that tramp art did not entirely originate from unskilled craftsman, although many of the pieces are crude in spite of their complexity.

Tramp art frames are most intriguing in style; they make terrific collectors items that are still durable and quite usable. In fact, professionals state that tramp art can be incorporated into any decorating style and make quite a dashing impact. They suggest using one piece for drama or several pieces - such as frames - grouped together.

What makes tramp art exceptional is that no two pieces are alike. The style itself was not so much a movement as it was a utilitarian way for folks to create usable objects for the home. Each crafter imparted a unique style that was not duplicated exactly by any other. In today's market, it is the more whimsical pieces that are fetching the highest prices. While you will find that most tramp art pieces are dated and signed, there is little likelihood that you will ever find any record of the artist.

Original pieces are becoming harder to find and some artisans are beginning to offer reproductions for sale. The best spots are at flea markets, on the Internet, and antique shops or marketplaces.

If you want to make your own tramp art, you can find kits at on-line shops that are already layered and ready for carving. This would make a terrific history lesson and art instruction for older children who have expressed an interest in carving.




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