Amulets, Marionettes, and a lot of Jesus

Turns out folk art exists everywhere. In my limited thinking, it’s a Southern thing comprised of jugs with faces and painted tin. But lo and behold, it includes tapestries and hats, figurines (often related to Jesus), saddles, weapons, amulets, even toys.

Santa Fe, NM hosts the Museum of International Folk Art. I was not prepared for the vibrancy. The colors were of course vigorous. What amazed me were the volume, the variety, the detail.

While there were multiple galleries, I was smitten with one–one person’s collection of 10,000 figurines from around the world, made in clay and silk, tin and wood, fabric and metal. The clothes were painted or dressed, the topics included the circus and religious ceremonies, the scenes were intimate and vast.

Settings showcased figurines by culture. Think of a train set with all its accoutrements and then shift your imagination to town squares in China, Mexico, Turkey.

scene showcase

Context for the “scenes” created with folk figurines. Sometimes the buildings were folk art, too. Others, benign backdrops.

Click the pic to advance the slideshow. The “scenes” could be the size of an elementary school desk or the size of a Queen’s dining table. Enjoy the humor, detail, intimacy, capture of daily life, and how these are similar across cultures.


Candidly, I found this overwhelming. I needed a mental sorbet between viewings, couldn’t absorb the written information (which was provided in a loaner book!), so ultimately glided through the exhibit in a daze. I had already been to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum that morning, which flooded my senses. If you go to the Folk Art Museum, let it be the only item on your day’s itinerary. It’s wonderfully exhausting!

Child’s Play

Before there was TV (and for some even after it), children created their own stories, and played them out after dinner for the family. The children would create the sets and “paper puppets.” Looking at the artistry here, I would suspect that they got some help!play sets


Some playhouses came replete with gobs of figurines, depicting everything from ceremonies to market day. Why so many? Why not…?

overpopulated scenes

Things That Scare Me

Masks – don’t hide. Be yourself without a tool. If yourself wants to be abandoned, go for it. Just let me know who you are.


Marionettes. Are they EVER not creepy? Even the ones in the Sound of Music were ghastly, despite those luscious lashes.


Religion and Folk Art

No surprise that religion is well represented. It is in every form of art.

Amulets were a surprise to me. Because it’s not a word heard often, nor something I would consider folksy. A wall the size of three chalkboards is filled with amulets from around the world, but seemingly the majority come from Mediterranean places. Reality or the collector’s focus?


Angels and the devil–they’re unavoidable in art. Interestingly, more angels than devils are found here. I love that the display is a mixture of cultures.

heaven and hell

What a treat to discover how art and parables are made accessible to the masses.


Do you have any folk art from your heritage? Please share its story.

Disclosure: All of these photos are from Flickr. The museum asks visitors not to take photos and I play by the rules. But not everyone does, so you get to see and I get to remember.

Second Disclosure–thank you to the Santa Fe Tourism Bureau for the complimentary ticket.

5 Responses


My people, the Poles, make beautiful 3-D paper Christmas tree ornaments.

(Woah, now I have to use words to describe them, and this is really hard!) They are balls, three to six inches in diameter, consisting of dozens of thin paper cones, all the same length.

(Naaah, doesn’t work. OK, try this:) Picture a porcupine rolled into a ball. Instead of porcupine spines, you have slender paper cones, with their wide ends at the center of the ball and the narrow ends pointing to the outside.

(Ugh, a rolled up porcupine doesn’t sound like something you’d want to put on your tree. Is this a demonstration that I’m Polish??? I give up. You’ll just have to trust me that they’re made of beautiful printed paper and the result is like holding a lovely star in your hand.)

As the Catholics, who made all of that religious art you’re seeing, would say, Amen.

1. Thank you for the joy and laughter of both your description and versions.
2. Like this? Beautiful!

Sometimes I envy you for writing so well! I mean, seriously amazing! =)


That’s it! I just went to FB today on a lark to see if I could find any. Duh! Dozens and dozens. Not a one with any resemblance to a porcupine.

Paula, I agree wholeheartedly with your advice about the Folk Art Museum. I was there several years ago and was exhausted too!

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