Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Folk Art & Fantasy in the Land of Enchantment

On more than one occasion, I have used this platform to ponder on the differences between what is considered art and what is deemed craft.  Frankly, I'm not even sure that I know what separates folk art from fine art.  I mean, is it training or merely a matter of retrospection?  Exactly how many decades separate Uncle Max's matchstick picture frame (made during that stint in the state pen) from authentic American folk art?  And is it simply a matter of years before my Blue Bunny Baby riding a Dream-Sized Dream Pet transitions from "Crazy Crafty" critter to museum-worthy exhibit?

What me, arty?

The crown jewel of Santa Fe, New Mexico's Museum Hill is the Museum of International Folk Art.  The best part of the collection is the Girard Wing, the result of one man's lifelong infatuation with world art.  After our visit to the museum, I thought I was beginning to get a better handle on the answers to all of my nagging questions.


Folk art is dioramas.

Folk art is fully-hinged conjoined twins.

Folk art is castles.

Folk art is dolls (with pencil-thin mustasches that would make William Powell and Dali green with envy).

Folk art is dress-up.

The folk art museum was a revelatory experience.  Moving on almost immediately to Tinkertown, however, I found myself squarely back at square one.  Sure there were dolls and dioramas, but the folk art fantasy that is Tinkertown is so much more wonderfully folksy! 


Tinkertown Museum (est. 1962) - Sandia Park, NM

Tinkertown has to be one of the best roadside, one-man, trash castle, folk art installations in all of central New Mexico.  Okay, maybe the world.  A breathtaking assemblage of desert debris, animated dioramas, vintage arcade novelties, hand-carved figurines, coin-operated vignettes, famed watercraft, and legitimate antiques, Tinkertown is a friendly "up yours" to the precious nature of curated museum collections.  There is so much to see that Tinkertown is borderline stimulation overload, but the bevy of bottle-glass walls and hand-painted signs keeps everything nice and orderly.

I've always been a fan of bad puns and dad jokes but
the older I get it, the deeper my affection grows. 

Fortunately, admission - even for a group of four  - was not cost prohibitive (less than $10 total, if memory serves).

I am a sucker for signs and bottle walls!!!

And he is a sucker for automated puppet bands!

The real heart of Tinkertown is its 60-foot-long, old west diorama.  At regular intervals, guests can push a button and parts of the diorama spring to life with automation!

The sets are unbelievably detailed, from the matte-painting backdrops to the menagerie of animal characters.

The carved figures are incredibly evocative.

Shadow boxes filled with odds and ends round out the dingbat collections.

The wild west diorama is a sight to behold but the state's "Largest Miniature Circus" was my favorite oxymoron in the joint!

The miniature circus diorama has everything - three rings, a circus wagon,
trapeze artists - but you will always find Mr. Tiny at the sideshow!

The whole experience was a "living art gallery," just like the Tattoed Lady!

"Snow White said, 'Send the prince back home!  I'm with the King!'"

Now normally, I loathe inspirational quotations; just because you write something down or publish a meme doesn't mean that you've captured the wisdom of the ages.  I can see that the founder of Tinkertown and I are obviously simpatico, as I was charmed by nearly every bit of hand-painted wisdom scattered throughout the museum grounds.

"Live life as the pursuit of happiness."

"Yet there are souless[sic] men who would destroy what time and man will never build again."
This one broke my heart.

"I get up every morning both determined to change the world and to have one hell
of a good time.  Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult." - E.B. White

It probably sounds corny, but I am so glad to have taken this road trip with my nephew.  If he's anything like his uncle, he will have essentially zero recall of his life as a five-year-old boy.  Nevertheless, I know he will be a better, more interesting person for this exposure to the sane-yet-subversive world of weird roadside attractions and fantastic folk art.  I will be a better person for having him in my life!

This picture brings me so much joy! 

So, do you know what the difference is between crazy crafts, fine art, and folk art?  Wherever it lies, I know we'll never get bored on our hunt for the answer!  I'm just hoping that fine or folky, we're allowed to watch TV while we're creating our art!

"Toy Tinkers" (1949)

Museum of International Folk Art
706 Camino Lejo
Santa Fe, NM

Tinkertown Museum
121 Sandia Crest Rd
Sandia Park, NM


Mr. Tiny


  1. I LOVED Tinkertown. It was the highlight of our trip on Route 66 in our vintage '64 Pontiac Safari Stationwagon last year. I love seeing it through your eyes. I'd go back in a heartbeat... What fun, what inspiration!!!

  2. Me too! I was like a kid in a candy store. Fortunately, my nephew was digging it I didn't look like an overgrown weirdo dragging a bored kid around! I can't wait to go back!

  3. Tinker town looks so fun! It looks like that place in NC Jamie and I always stop at! It's so much to take in. I've often pondered the distinctions between craft and folk art. Like the Pinterest shit everyone is doing now (mugs with sharpie designs baked on, burlap wrapped painted mason know) will that be the basis for folk art museums of the future? Who knows?!?? Also can you start selling in your etsy shop a shirt that says, "folk art is a set of fully hinged conjoined twins!"

    1. Hahaha!!! I'll start working on a tshirt design ASAP!