Keeping Connected

Nellie Staves For many folk artists, reinforcing a close identification with a group to which they belong is of great importance.

They use forms, designs, colors, and motifs that clearly connect them and their work to others with a shared heritage or values. They may create objects for use by members of the group—as in rituals or customs—or to sustain insiders’ and outsiders' views of the group and its traditions.

Masonic Blacksmith Sign
Perley Bogardus, Depeyster, 1925
Courtesy of private collection

Perley Bogardus Blacksmith Shop Sign

This wrought iron sign was most likely made by Perley Bogardus for the exterior of his blacksmith shop in Depeyster to advertise horse shoeing, repairs, and hardware. Reported to weigh only 140 pounds, he practiced blacksmithing for local farmers well into the age of automobiles. He was also active for many years in the local Masonic lodge. The carpenter’s square and letter G have long been symbols of Free Masonry, used here as a proud statement of his identity and, perhaps, to entice fellow Masons to patronize his shop.

Milford Howe  Tin ManTin Man
Milford Howe, Canton, ca. 1940
Courtesy of Allan P. Newell

Workers in sheet metal—who make gutters, downspouts, and heating ducts—have also been known to be creative with their materials and skills. A common construction among them has been tin man figures,   often to be used for advertising their trade. According to local stories, this piece from Milford Howe’s hardware store in Canton may have been made for the artist’s wife and never used in the store. With the funnel-shaped hat and the ax, it was likely made around or after 1939, when the movie The Wizard of Oz came out with the Tin Man character, which resembled this one.

Bracket Fungus Carving
Nellie Staves, Tupper Lake, ca. 2000
Courtesy of The Wild Center

Bracket Fungus CarvingThe art of carving images on freshly cut bracket or shelf fungus is truly an Adirondack custom. Nearly every old camp has at least a couple of them, probably made on rainy days for or by kids. From the time she was a child, Nellie Staves—an active trapper and outdoorswoman—collected “mushrooms” from dead or dying hardwood trees and etched beautiful pictures on them with simple tools—a protractor, a spoon, and a soft brush. She completed scores of them, usually with finely detailed images of wildlife, like this elaborate example.

“Good Food Served Right” Diner Sign   
Greg & Molly Caron, Hopkinton, ca. early 1980s
Courtesy of the artists

Diner signThis sign was created to hang outside Sara’s Kitchen, a small diner serving local customers, next to the Carons’ market and grocery in Hopkinton. Greg Caron says: “With money not being plentiful, we had to do with what we had. So, we took a flashlight and held it up with a roll of paper towels, casting the light to put our shadows on a 4 X 8 sheet of plywood, with first my wife and then me sitting at a diner table so we could trace a pattern. At the bottom we had many thoughts as to what it would say—Sara’s Kitchen, Home Town Diner, and many others. However,  ‘Good Food Served Right’ was as simple as it could get and said it all.”  The sign was later the logo and title for TAUNY’s prize-winning regional cookbook, published in 2000.

Guideboat ModelAdirondack Guideboat Model with Guide
George Outcalt, Saranac Lake
Courtesy of Adirondack Museum

This painted model of an Adirondack guideboat and guide by George Outcalt was one of several he made. Guides and guideboats have been a major part of life in the mountans—a livelihood for locals and as recreation and relaxation for their clients. This is a scene so iconic of the region that it was adopted as the logo for the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.

Boy and Girl in Haystack
William Queor, North Lawrence, ca. 1970s
Courtesy of private collection

Often a theme in oral and written literature about American rural life, the boy and girl in a haystack represents some adventurous aspects of old-time courtship. William Queor grew up on small farms in the North Country and worked as a hired man in the lumber woods and on farms as an adult. This carving, with very simple lines and, as he preferred, unpainted surfaces, shows his untrained skill as a whittler and his quiet, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.