Sunday, June 7, 2015

American Folk Art Buildings

I learned about the collection described in this book, American Folk Art Buildings: Collection of Steven Burke and Randy Campbell, via this New York Times article, which was the aha! moment behind the E. L. Moore folk-artist-as-model-railroader idea.

There are all sorts of model buildings and small buildings in the world. This collection focuses on those made by non-professionals who don’t make them for a living and build for personal reasons. There aren’t things like architect’s models, doll houses, birdhouses and so on in the collection. As well, most of the pieces date from roughly the late 19th century to around 1950. The book itself has high production values: glossy pages, and all photos are colour, well lit and sharp.

The models themselves span a wide range of architectural types from houses to stores to churches to businesses and so on, and have made use of wide variety of materials in their construction. It appears that a few were likely used at one time as scenic accessories on model railroads. Being an E. L. Moore aficionado I looked for obvious examples of his work, but didn’t find any. It's an extensive collection, and makes it clear that making small buildings was a pastime for many people even though it wasn't a mainstream hobby - it was a strong, although lesser unknown tributary in the popular culture.

An important thing that comes across in this book is that the owners of this collection have worked hard to display the models to their best advantage. I especially like how they often use a white column or pedestal to bring a piece up close to eye level. The common practice of displaying small models on waist level tables, layouts, bookcases and other types of readily available furniture has the advantage of being low-cost and convenient, but usually doesn’t do justice to a model, and by extension, its maker. Again, the owners of this collection have clearly spent a lot of time and effort on optimizing the viewing experience. I think that makes a great difference.

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