There is a school of thought which says that Folk Art is just Art done badly. Not so. What we have here is a random collection of art, design, decoration, much of it highly skilled and done extremely well, but definitely not fine art. Stonemasons have been carving grotesques and green men for centuries. Canal art, fairground art and inn signs have flourished for about 150 years, in fairly rigid but separate traditions. Masks and puppets have long been devised to scare or amuse us. Folk needlewomen produce decorations for the ‘plush seatpieces’ of Cumberland wrestlers. Pearlies create graphic designs out of buttons. The masqueraders of Notting Hill turn out in fantastic costumes. Most graffiti is stupid rubbish only fit for removal forthwith but some, on the other hand, is produced with incredible skill, and indeed encouraged by local authorities wanting to brighten up dismal corners of their patch. Much of the work surrounding the skateboarders on the South Bank in London is good enough for the Hayward Gallery upstairs. Banksy is of course a ‘proper’ artist. As are most of the political muralists in Belfast and Derry, who are famous throughout the world.
We make no apology for so many well dressing pictures for this is folk art at its very best. Never mind it will all be withered in a few days, there will always be another folk masterpiece next year. When Collections first photographed well dressing in the sixties there were only about thirty villages in the Peak District carrying on the tradition. Tissington, with records going back to 1350 and often suggested as the origin of it all, was the most famous then and remains so today though there are now about a hundred others. The best part is that they are all sticking to the traditional methods while the designs get more and more wild. This must be influenced by art school trained folks; there was a famous one at Youlgreave. It is still ‘folk’ art, but for how long?