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Tramp Art: Obscure Folk Art of the Working Class

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Course Overview

The term “tramp art” may bring to mind train hopping hobos or itinerant Depression-era people looking for work, but it actually refers to a uniquely American form of folk art that was popular from the 1870s to the 1940s, rooted in Eastern European decorative carving practiced by working class immigrants with a strong work ethic and a desire not to let good materials go to waste. Nuanced and complex, tramp art emerged from the complex landscape of early twentieth century America, but it is both beguiling and ingenious to study a century later. 

There are a few different forms that are covered by the term “tramp art.” During this workshop, we will explore two of the more popular types. Decorative notched and stacked wooden boxes made from discarded cigar boxes are the first and most recognizable. These boxes may be used to hold jewelry or sewing notions. The second type, the “Crown of Thorns”, is made from discarded fruit packing crates that are taken to pieces and then cut, carved, and notched to be reassembled into complex three-dimensional structures. Varying in size, they may be used as picture frames, miniature toy chairs, or other home decorations. We will learn the techniques and skills needed to produce the boxes and unlock the secrets of the Crown of Thorns. Students will leave with a completed decorative box and small examples of the Crown of Thorns. No woodworking experience is required for this course, just an interest in beautiful objects made from found materials requiring only simple hand tools.

Required Tools 

  • slöjd or fixed blade knife (available form the North House School Store)

Optional Tools 

  • small measuring
  • layout tools 
  • utility knife 
  • small detail hand saw


Tue, Mar 14th, 2023  –  Thu, Mar 16th, 2023

Course Details

Hours: 9am-5pm each day
Tuition: $330.00
Materials fee: $25.00
Latest Update: View recent changes →

Meet the Instructor

Kenneth Kortemeier
Bristol, Maine

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Tramp Art: Obscure Folk Art of the Working Class