Folk artists of the mid-1900s offered unique worldviews where museums were rare

Tim Kovel and Kerry Kovel
Cowles Syndicate
Woodcarver Johannes Scholl went by John after emigrating from Germany to the United States. One of his elaborate folk art whimsies sold at Conestoga Auctions for $4,130.

Artists don't spend all their time making large oil paintings, huge statues or even sketches and doodles that help them create a new and different style. Many worked for years before they found the special, individual look that pictured the world in a unique way.

But a different group of artists made folk art carvings, squashed pottery vases and sewer tile statues with the free materials found nearby. 

The most ambitious made strange towers of bottles and scrap wood or carved fancy trim for a ceiling from local trees. Collectors and museums started to recognize folk art as another way to look at the world about the middle of the 1900s, but only in areas where formal art museums were rare. 

Today, museum collectors of unique folk art like carousel horses, carved duck decoys and George Ohr pottery vases and pay thousands of dollars for great examples. Even the anonymous carvings used to trim buildings or decorate gardens are collected.

John (or Johannes) Scholl (1827-1916) carved with a jackknife and then used paint. He was a woodcarver whose work was praised long after his death. He made folk art whimsies — carved decorations of fancy shapes — that are thought to be among the most important pieces of folk art in the 20th century. 

A recent Conestoga auction sold a 28-inch-high piece of folk art by Scholl. It was a carved wooden whimsy that sold for $4,130 after 13 bids.

Question: I had a friend who had a display cabinet filled with pink Depression glass. One day, the top glass shelf broke and fell onto the second shelf and then the bottom shelf. It was a disaster of broken glass. It got me thinking about Depression glass. Is it valuable?

Answer: Depression glass was very popular with collectors from about the 1950s through the 1980s. Depression glass is an inexpensive glass that was made during the 1920s and early 1930s in many colors and patterns by dozens of factories in the United States. The name "Depression glass" is a modern one for machine-made glass of the 1940s through 1970s. Prices vary, but large serving pieces are getting high prices in antique stores. We are sorry about your friend's loss! He should have followed our tip. Glass shelves should be checked anytime you change what is displayed. Glass bends and can break when there is too much weight.

Q: I bought a painting of a lovely seascape that appears to be from the 1800s. That is all the information I received about it. It pictures a sailing ship, cliffs along the shoreline and a rising moon. The seascape looks English to me, but what do I know? I'm a girl who was born and raised in Nebraska! I would like your assistance in helping me find out more about it. I'd like to know where it might have come from, its possible artist, about when it was painted and a possible value.

A: We don't appraise paintings, and it's not possible to determine the value of a painting from a photograph. It must be seen by an expert. Without a signature or mark, it's almost impossible to tell the age of the painting. If the scene is an identifiable place, you might be able to guess where it came from or when it was painted from the landmarks and buildings. An unsigned painting is rarely worth much unless it can be attributed to a well-known artist, has an attractive old frame or has some other special feature.

Q: I love Japanese pottery and recently started looking at Satsuma pottery. Can you tell me about the pieces called "American Satsuma"?

A: Satsuma is a Japanese city where most of the Japanese pottery pieces found today were made after 1860. It has a beige, crackled glaze and is usually decorated with scenes or people in blue, red, green, orange or gold. During World War I, Americans could not buy undecorated European porcelains. Women who liked to make handpainted porcelains at home began to decorate white undecorated Satsuma "blanks." Early pottery pieces made in Satsuma have floral designs asymmetrically spaced, with much open space. These pieces are known today as "American Satsuma." Later pottery has geometric designs in the art deco style. The deco designs are less popular with collectors.

TIP: Put a dab of toothpaste on the back of a picture frame. Press the picture back against the wall where you want the nail to be. It will leave a mark that will wipe off.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer readers' questions sent to the column. Send a letter with one question describing the size, material (glass, pottery) and what you know about the item. Include only two pictures, the object and a closeup of any marks or damage. Be sure your name and return address are included. By sending a question, you give full permission for use in any Kovel product. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We do not guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. Questions that are answered will appear in Kovels Publications. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at