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No Idle Hands: The Myths & Meanings of Tramp Art

On display through Sept. 16, 2018 at the Museum of International Folk Art

Tramp art is the product of industry, a style of woodworking from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that made use of discarded cigar boxes and fruit crates that were notched and layered to make a variety of domestic objects.

No Idle Hands: The Myths & Meanings of Tramp Art presents more than 150 examples of tramp art, concentrating on works the from the United States, with additional examples from France, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Canada, Mexico and Brazil to demonstrate the far reach this art form has had.

This is the first large-scale museum exhibition dedicated to tramp art since 1975. For many years, “tramp art” was believed to have been made by itinerants and hobos, thus its name. It has been demonstrated that this notion is largely erroneous, however the name “tramp art” has remained the only terminology used for this practice, and the paucity of scholarly studies to dispel the mistaken notions about tramp art have allowed the myths to persist. No Idle Hands examines the assumptions related to class, quality, and the anonymity of the makers of tramp art and considers this practice instead through the lens of home and family while tracing its relationship to industry—whether as individual ethos or big industry. No Idle Hands also includes works by contemporary makers, thus establishing tramp art as an ongoing folk art form rather than a vestige of the past.

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