Yesterday's Magazette

7 – Uncle Otto’s Folk Art

Uncle Otto’s Folk Art

By Madonna Dries Christensen

Anyone who watches Antiques Roadshow is familiar with the term Folk Art. The appraisers seem pleased when any form of folk art appears. Folk art is defined as an object that reflects the values of a region and is made from natural materials found there. Although intended to be utilitarian, folk art has been described as unnecessarily beautiful, meaning that its beauty outweighs its usefulness. The person creating the object has had no formal training in fine art, but is nonetheless skilled. Most of the work is done anonymously and if it lasts through the years it remains unidentified.


Folk art pieces include metal or wood toys, dolls, picture frames made of hammered tin or twigs, paintings, baskets, pottery, wood carvings, carved nut shells, decorative trinket boxes, hammered tin objects, quilts and needlework, leather goods, objects made from animal or human hair, small pieces of furniture, and walking sticks.

My husband’s uncle, Otto Hansen, lived off the land near Gayville, South Dakota, farming and trapping along the Missouri River. In the 1940s, while laid up with a broken leg, he passed the time by carving canes from diamond willow branches. Diamond willow, a fairly soft wood, is ideal for carving, but is also sturdy enough for walking sticks.

The red and cream colored diamond shapes are believed to be caused by a fungus that raises cankers in response to the infection. When the wood is used in a cane, the deformations add esthetic appeal. There are probably no two designs exactly alike.



Vintage folk art has monetary value today, but for most people, if a piece has been handed down in a family, the sentimental value is greater. To my knowledge, only one of Uncle Otto’s diamond willow canes survived. I’m proud to be its keeper for the moment.

*Madonna Dries Christensen, author of Swinging Sisters and Masquerade, has recently compiled the anthologies, “Dolls Remembered” and “Toys Remembered,” available through Amazon and other major bookstores.

Vol. 38 No. 1 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring- 2011


1 Comment »

  1. I love the people that treasure these kinds of simple things that are left behind by loved ones!

    Comment by Jean Johnson — March 1, 2011 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

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