Nutcrackers, weather houses and hand-carved wooden ornaments — the folk art of Germany, primarily from the mountainous Erzgebirge region, is loved by people across the globe. Let’s dive into the world of German folk art, exploring where it first originated, looking at some of the best examples and their history and significance — get ready to be inspired by the amazing craftsmanship from the Erzgebirge mountains!
What Is Handmade Folk Art, and Where in Germany Did It Originate From?
Handmade folk art is a genre of art that sees local people, usually living outside the traditional art world, create work with a sense of style unencumbered by wider outside influences. Germany’s Erzgebirge region was mined for ore from the 12th to the 20th century, and during this time, local miners would create small wooden pieces of art, which saw the birth of Germany’s rustic folk art. During this vast period, miners had to be adept at woodworking and mining to ensure their mining shafts were strong enough to keep the walls from collapsing.
The need for woodworking skills meant they would practice carving small pieces of folk art out of wood in their free time. Over the centuries, these little pieces of folk art — which usually resembled local village characters — started to create a unique style of their own.
Once the ore reserves of the Erzgebirge region started to deplete, the miners, who had passed their skills down from generation to generation, needed to be creative to find new ways to make a living. This was when their humble folk art started to be traded and sold across Germany. These pieces, which have been perfected over the centuries, grew in popularity in the last century and have become famous and loved across the world. And there may be more examples of traditional German folk art you are quite familiar with. Let’s find out some of the best-known examples of German folk art next.
What Are Some Famous Types of German Folk Art You Can Find Today?
One of the most iconic and instantly recognisable pieces of German folk is the wooden Nutcracker. This up-right soldier design was first created in the late 1800s in Erzgebirge and has since become a Christmas staple. The local expertise of precise woodworking and detailed hand painting come together to create these joyful pieces of German folk art.
But one of the most direct examples of German folk art, carved to resemble the “local village characters”, are German incense smoker men. These are hand-carved and come in many different designs. These include distinct characters such as mushroom forager, Oktoberfest-style beer drinker and miner in traditional garb — the list goes on! The design remains largely unchanged since its inception centuries ago, except that now the smoker men come in two pieces, one to go on top of a base where the incense is lit, whereas before, it used to be one solid piece. Once lit, the smoke from the incense travels up through the top of the piece — usually through the character’s mouth — to make it appear as if they are smoking. The importance of incense in German history has its roots in Christianity, as the bible notes how the baby Jesus was gifted incense on the day of his birth. They are therefore seen as very coveted items and were used to celebrate Christmas and the festive period.
Other Christmas decorations prominent in German folk art are candle arches. These also have their roots in the area’s mining history, whereby the miners would carve these candle holders in an arch to represent the passing of the sun while they were in the dark underground — and these arches grew more ornate during the Christmas period. These are now popular in traditional Christmas displays and offer an enchanting piece of festive German folk art for people around the world.
So if you’re looking for a unique and handmade piece of German history, why not discover the world of Erzgebirge’s folk art?
This is a collaborative post