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Sandra Sider

Folk art, or vernacular art (specific to a group or place), developed in Colonial America out of necessity when individual households produced most of the utilitarian objects required for daily life. Using traditional tools and techniques, many of these makers created pieces in which aesthetics came to play a substantial role, through form, ornamentation, or both. In some groups, notably the Shakers, function was emphasized, with pure form evoking an aesthetic and spiritual response. Religious beliefs have informed American folk art, such as the saints and other figures (Santos) carved and painted by Catholic settlers in the Southwest as early as 1700. Although the majority of folk art is now anonymous, the oeuvre of numerous individual artists can be determined by their distinctive styles or marks. Folk art is often considered within the field of ‘material culture’, with an emphasis on the object’s context rather than its creator. Most American folk art falls within three categories: painting and cut paper, textiles and fibre, and three-dimensional work such as furniture, carvings, metalwork, ceramics, and outdoor installations....