Patriotic wood carvingsBy Mark Chervenka
Patriotic wood carvings
new imports from Indonesia copy American folk art forms and themes
Sales of almost all symbols of American patriotism have increased since the terrorist attacks of September 2001. In December of 2002, reproduction folk art with patriotic themes began drifting into the antiques and collectibles market.
All the new folk art in patriotic themes we have seen are carved and painted wood. Each arrives from the wholesaler with an easily removable "Made in Indonesia" paper label. Indonesia has been a center of reproduction manufacturing since the early 1990s especially of wood products like furniture, toys, carousel and cigar store figures, trade signs, hobby horses, doll buggies and bird cages.
Like most other Indonesian reproductions, the folk art pieces are copied from various reference books on antiques and collectibles. The Indonesian pieces are similar in general form, color and size to originals.
Indonesian products can be confusing because they are, like the originals they copy, all made by hand. New products have tool marks, primitive joints and construction, details that vary from piece to piece and other signs that buyers often mistake as evidence of 19th century hand work.
There are several "first tests" you can use to eliminate the most obvious of these new patriotic pieces. One of the easiest tests is to give a suspected piece a good sniff. Painted Indonesian reproductions very often have a strong odor of fresh paint. Although the odor fades with time, this is still a very reliable test.
Next, look for modern fasteners. Despite being hand made in crude workshops, many Indonesian reproductions are assembled with modern fasteners. Round head finishing nails and Phillip head screws (Fig. 12) are signs of a recently manufactured piece.
All of the new pieces are distressed at the factory with "antique" surfaces. Although surfaces look old, there are easily detectable differences between artificial wear and wear associated with normal aging. Authentic wear marks appear in random directions in various widths and depths. Marks that appear in regular repeated patterns, such as parallel lines or concentric circles (Fig. 15), or are nearly perfectly uniform in depth and width, are likely artificial wear made by power tools or other recent deliberate actions.
Illogical paint wear is particularly noticeable. Normal paint wear typically begins with the highest point and only progresses to lower areas with age. If recessed areas show wear while higher surrounding areas are not worn, it is a generally a sign of artificial wear (Fig. 14).
One unusual feature introduced with this group of reproductions is the technique of combining cast plastic heads with carved wood bodies (Figs. 10-11) The castings are one way to provide fine detailing without doing the work by hand. Seams where plastic heads were attached to the wood bodies were impossible to detect by visual inspection. The plastic heads were only discovered when the pieces were X-rayed. The flesh colored plastic does show through any paint chips in the heads, but we obviously don't recommend deliberately chipping a suspected piece.
There is also an improvement in the paint on this latest group that needs mentioning. Unlike previous Indonesian "antiqued" surfaces which had the same crackled finish over an entire object, the finish on this group can vary over a single piece. Only selected areas are crackled, other areas have regular finishes. The extreme crackling over the entire surface was one method of identifying earlier Indonesian reproductions. This is no longer the case. You need to use a variety of tests like the ones described above.