Folk art adds sophistication to rooms

October 11, 1992|By Rita St. Clair

Primitive, tribal, folk -- whatever the politically correct term may be -- this type of art has long been a passion of sophisticated collectors. They have recognized the beauty and sensitivity of work produced by gifted artists who were not schooled in the classical Western or Asian traditions.

Today, folk art -- to use the least-loaded term -- is sparking one of the design world's hottest trends. Exotic colors and patterns have now all but replaced the dreamy pastel hues that were all the rage in the '80s. And while animal prints are not exactly a

new feature in high-styled interiors, they're starting to show up in the fabrics, carpets and wallpapers sold in local home-furnishings stores.

The photo shows a sampling of the folk-inspired items available by mail order from a new firm called the Hemmeter Collection. Some are reproductions done in the motifs of ancient crafts, but restyled to mesh with today's American interiors. Other pieces are originals produced by contemporary artists in the Third World.

If you admire art of this kind but are wondering whether it would look appropriate in your own style of interior, be assured that such pieces are amazingly adaptable. I always preach that a design of good quality and authenticity can be integrated with furnishings and objects of very different styles, as long as they share the same strength of character. And this is no less true for examples of folk art. Used as accents, they can add personality to simple modern interiors or introduce an element of surprise to a traditional setting.

The Kuba cloth shown in the photo illustrates the ancient weaving techniques that have been preserved by the artisans of Zaire. Placed in side a Plexiglas frame, this brightly colored fabric will have a powerful and positive impact on a room designed in contemporary fashion. Similarly, the ceremonial bell with a black bamboo holder can succeed wonderfully as a table or shelf ornament in either a modern or traditional setting. The same degree of versatility is possible with kilim rugs, delicate or thickly woven basketry, and decorative pottery.

When evaluating reproductions of these kinds of handcrafts, pay attention not only to the quality and integrity of the work but to its color as well. The object's color should be true to its cultural lineage; think twice about buying a piece that just happens to match this season's most chic color.

Selections should also be made with an eye to where a particular item will fit most comfortably in a given setting. In my view, the objective is not solely to collect folk crafts for their own sake, but also to use them as building blocks in a well-structured design.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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