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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....


Ethan Robey

Form of painted spectacle popular in the 19th century. Panoramas and the panoramic mode of representation pervaded the visual culture of 19th-century America. Invented by the Irish artist Robert Barker (1739–1806) in the 1790s, circular panoramas, 360 painted views, were typically displayed in purpose-built rotundas. Fee-paying visitors ascended to the main room where the painting, illuminated by skylights, lined the walls. The top and bottom edges of the painted canvas were often obscured to afford visitors as few visual cues as possible to its artificiality.

By the beginning of the 19th century, many American cities could boast of several panorama buildings. Owners advertised new paintings much as theatres would promote a new play. Yet panoramas occupied an uncertain cultural position. As the primary duty of the paintings was to convince a viewer of the reality of the scene, panoramas more closely resembled topographic views than picturesque landscapes, leading many critics to deem them something other than a fine art. They were also marketed as popular spectacles. The canvases themselves often travelled, were frequently resized to fit various venues, and were generally treated as depreciable commodities. Consequently, few panoramas survive. A rare exception is John Vanderlyn’s ...



James Cordova and Claire Farago

Term that refers to handmade paintings and sculptures of Christian holy figures, crafted by artists from the Hispanic and Lusophone Americas. The term first came into widespread use in early 20th-century New Mexico among English-speaking art collectors to convey a sense of cultural authenticity. Throughout the Americas, the term imagenes occurs most frequently in Spanish historical documents. Santos are usually painted on wood panels (retablos) or carved and painted in the round (bultos). Reredos, or altarpieces, often combine multiple retablos and bultos within a multi-level architectural framework.

European Christian imagery was circulated widely through the Spanish viceroyalties in the form of paintings, sculptures, and prints, the majority of which were produced in metropolitan centres such as Mexico City, Antigua, Lima, and Puebla, where European- and American-born artists established guilds and workshops. These became important sources upon which local artists elsewhere based their own traditions of religious image-making using locally available materials such as buffalo hides, vegetal dyes, mineral pigments, and yucca fibres, commonly employed by native artists long before European contact....