Tate Britain's folk art exhibition made my day

Cool as Folk

By Ambra Medda

I happened to be wondering around London yesterday and was delighted to chance upon British Folk Art, one of the current exhibitions at Tate Britain. What luck!

The works on display are truly jewels of human civilization—the physical embodiments of how the Brits used to live, approach commerce, engage their traditions, pass on their beliefs, and, well, spend their spare time. Totally fascinating!

Unknown, Bone Cockerel © Vivacity Culture and Leisure – Peterborough Museum Unknown, Bone Cockerel © Vivacity Culture and Leisure – Peterborough Museum

Take for instance this Bone Cockerel: meticulously hand-carved in bone by a prisoner-of-war in a camp called Norman Cross, near Peterborough, sometime between 1797 and 1814. I find the piece so odd, yet distinctive and utterly refined. It really ignites the imagination.

george_smart_goose_woman George Smart, Goose Woman c.1840 © Image courtesy Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery

The textiles and paintings included in the show were hands down the most beautiful and unexpected. I had no idea there was such a strong tradition of weaving, patchworking, and embroidery in Britain. Amazing quilts and intricate tapestries with the most exciting designs and motifs in silk, wool, cotton, linen—you name it!

But, really, every object filled me with delight. Like this quirky paper-and-fabric collage entitled Goosewoman by George Smart—one of the few named makers of stature in the exhibition. This little piece was so poetic, simply crafted, and beautiful.

pincushion Unknown, Pin Cushion; Photo © Tate Photography, Courtesy of Beamish Museum

Check out this late-19th-century Sweetheart Pincushion: this richly adorned functional object comes out of a tradition in which active-duty sailors and soldiers sent home handmade tokens of love. I love the pompom fringing and the intricate beadwork. Even better is the message across the surface: "1896...Remember Me."

wrexham_coverlet_emailable_1 Patchwork Bedcover made by James Williams, Wrexham 1842-52 © St Fagans: National History Museum

But even beyond the sentimental, the works in this show are masterful expressions of craftsmanship and material expertise. Just think... this large, patchwork Coverlet of pulled wool is made up of 4,525 separate pieces! How much time was required to make this?

*All images courtesy of Tate Britain.

  • Text by

    • Ambra Medda

      Ambra Medda

      Ambra is a passionate, seasoned curator, who facilitates great design through innovative collaborations between designers, artists, brands, and institutions. Among many other things.

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