Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

FOLK is a four lettered word

"folk" what's in a word? . . .

folk = people 

For instance Norfolk and Suffolk, the North People and the South People of East Anglia . . . simple enough, but folk seems a little archaic and twee.

Folk Art

Yesterday Su and I went to Tate Britain to see the British Folk Art exhibition. 

Even the curators have opted out of defining 'Folk Art':
"This exhibition does not set out a single narrative or definition for folk art. As curators we decided from the beginning not to attempt this, but instead offer a series of encounters with different sorts of objects that already have a history as folk art" 

What was exhibited was a collection of objects crafted by people - decorative, useful, graphic, all created with skill, design and care. Art that exists under the radar of the art establishment.

The exhibits are displayed against brightly painted walls and carefully labelled in 'museum style'. All the exhibits were interesting, many were for me very inspiring; but I also thought there was a coldness about the exhibition, divorced from their context in a home or shop the quilts, samplers, carvings and shop signage seemed a bit sad and lonely . . . they needed the warmth of homes, bustling streets and folk. 

For instance here is one of my favourite exhibits, this is an appliqué quilt which was made by a husband and wife just after their marriage, they lived in Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast. I couldn't take photos in the exhibition, this is a page in the exhibition leaflet. 

The background is embroidered with orange silk thread, the stitches follow the shapes of the appliqué patch animals and objects . . . just imagine how this would brighten up a their cottage in candlelight on a dark cold winter's night!
There is a short video about the exhibition here.

After a nice lunch in the gallery cafe, we took the tube to the Bethnal Green, we walked along streets bustling with market stalls and shops glittering with saris and bangles before heading off down some side streets past blocks of flats and along rows of terraced houses until we reached a corner shop . . .

just a normal corner shop . . .

it was warm . . .
maybe we should buy an ice cream?

it's a shop . . . but not a real shop . . . everything in the shop is made from felt - stitched and stuffed!

even the newspapers!

This is the creation of Lucy Sparrow. Is it art? Is it social commentary? Is it politics? Is this Folk Art?

Making all the items in the shop must have been a huge task, but one I can imagine how I might tackle. But having the tenacity to find an empty shop and make the concept reality was, I think, the far bigger challenge. And what an amazingly cheery experience it is . . . do go along if you can, it's open until the end of August.

Folk Festival

Now there's something loaded with preconceived prejudice! 

I'm off to FolkEast at the weekend, last year was so much fun that this year I'm going to be in the ArtArcade for all 3 days. Forget all ideas about people in homespun sandals with a finger in their ear, this is a festival about music, song, dance, art, crafts, food  and fun - all in a beautiful country parkland near the Suffolk coast - what's not to like?!

Day tickets for Saturday and Sunday are still available so if you fancy a day of superb and diverse music, local food and friendly fun, do come along . . . it's like the best village fete with amazingly talented musicians providing the sound track.

And if you can't be there in person you will be able to watch a film about FolkEast - The Road to Glemham Hall which is being filmed over the weekend featuring lots of folk with a passion for what they do.

What a complexity of meaning in such a small word.

That's all folks!

I'll be back after I've recovered from FolkEast!


  1. It was a lovely day wasn't it. The corner shop was the highlight for me too, such fun and such a great example of both determination and real life art. Have a great weekend at Folk East :-)

    1. Thank you Su, hope the storms have passed over and it will be a dry weekend!

  2. Lovely post. I'd love to make a quilt together with my husband - what a delightful idea. Unfortunately I don't think he would be as enthusiastic as I am...

    1. Nor mine! Maybe he was a fisherman and skilled at mending nets and sails?

  3. Celia, I so agree with what you've written about museum gallery labels and signage. Sometimes when I visit an exhibit featuring an artist or something I do know a bit about, I actually ignore the verbage. Sometimes, in a similar situation, I will read the words, and start muttering to myself, or even to an obliging friend with whom I might be visiting the exhibit.

    I imagine that there could be a concept for an exhibit there. Calling Grayson Perry. Have some fun with this. How much info is too much, how much is absurd in its chill of date made, date acquired, possible list of media/materials involved in the item on display.

    Moving on, I would like to see that Tate exhibit.

    When I read on through your post and learned you were stopping in Bethnal Green, I knew you'd already had lunch, so you weren't going to head to E. Pellicci for a fabuous lunch, but guessed correctly you were on your way to the felted Corner Shop. I read of this place in my regular Spitalfields Life posts from the Gentle Author.

    The work involved in creating this conceptual shop is amazing. TGA has written that the artist has held workshops to show folks how to make these felt pretenders. Amazing stuff!

    Now I am really looking forward to seeing what you will be posting about FolkEast.

    I do love the expression folks in lieu of people. I think that our President Obama feels the same way. Mind you, I was using folks way before he ever ran for his first term as President.


    1. I'm sure you would have enjoyed the exhibition - Su and I found lots of the exhibits very inspiring. It's funny how in the US the word 'folk' is used in a different context to in the UK. I don't think a politician here could get away with referring to people as 'folk' without sounding twee or patronising. I'm all set to go to FolkEast, will blog about it next week.

  4. Ooooh this post makes me feel even more marooned than ever.

    Even though I haven't been to the Tate show, my immediate reaction (after the initial "! wanna go" one) was a mixed one of these objects being uncomfortably out of place in the sterile marbled hall surroundings of museum building while at the same time cheering on more recognition for folk/primitive/naive while at the same time having a sneaking feeling that the Tate elite are being a tiny bit patronising by letting them in in the first place.

    But then again I have issues with the Tate. Whenever I visit I am invariably disappointed by the absence of my favourite painters and outraged by the enormous quantity of dead space (I am including some pretentious films here).

    Mark Gertler's son recently said the Tate has 14 of this father's works in storage but only 1 has ever been on display.
    Here endeth the rant!

    The felt shop looks amazing. How long did it take her to put it together I wonder, how many assistants. Maybe her mum helped. I hope so!

    1. Hi Amanda, you'd love the exhibition at the Tate, maybe I should have taken the audio-guide which I understand it very good. However I would have liked a sentence setting the scene for each exhibit - rather than just date, brief title and collection it was from. There were some excellent photos in the final room which showed some of the exhibits (or similar ones) in their original settings, but they seemed an afterthought.
      Lucy took 8 months to make the Felt Cornershop - and find the premises, get funding etc. She had some help cutting up the felt but stitched everything herself... except for a little help from her Mum who helped make the pick&mix sweets. Her boyfriend was behind the counter and answering questions the afternoon we visited. Lucy is also teaching workshops in the shop and giving talks in the local area. Her next venture is a 7/11 felt shop in New York!

    2. Hi Celia,
      Maybe I'll put the catalogue on my Christmas list then.
      Off to google her website. I was spot on with her mum wasn't I? Can't see mine doing that I must say. xx

  5. The labelling of "art forms" is a contentious issue.But I read that you took a Bethnal Green bus...and that was it, I'm afraid. I was off with Paddy Roberts, singing his Ballad of Bethnal Green! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbSEJ5v6zFQ

    1. Oh that's a fab song! I'd not heard it before ... that you so much for the link.
      I'll be singing the chorus all evening :-))))

  6. I've been so enchanted by all the photos I've seen of the Corner Shop installation. I'm a bit envious that you got to see it.

    Does the UK have folk art museums, like the US does!

    1. The Felt Cornershop is even more enchanting in real life... both funny and sad, as shops like that are becoming less common. And so perfectly observed.
      Sadly the UK doesn't seem to value Folk Art in the way the US does. There are some regional museums and museums and rural life that include a 'folk art collection' among their exhibits. In Cambridge the 'Folk Museum' has recently rebranded itself as The Museum of Cambridge http://www.folkmuseum.org.uk/ to try to get more visitors. It's the term 'Folk' that is a real problem here, it's seen as fringe/twee/unfashionable/nerdy and yet artists who take their inspiration from 'Folk Art' are very 'Now' in the style magazines etc such as Emily Sutton, Mark Hearld, Tom Frost and Christopher Brown. I think this is the first time a major London Gallery has featured 'Folk Art' yet it has got very little publicity and it doesn't seem to be as popular as other big London exhibitions.

  7. What a lovely post, I feel a 'folk' revival coming on! I would love to see the felt corner shop, I saw. It on the BBC news a while back.


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