I found this sweet little horse figurine at a collector’s estate sale a couple of weeks back. It’s made of chalkware, which was a popular and inexpensive art form in the late 19th century through to the 1950s.
Technically, chalkware is made of gypsum plaster and then painted in pastels or bright watercolors (it doesn’t have any chalk in it!) Early on, chalkware was considered a ‘folk art,’ art created by untrained individuals. Most chalkware was sold by carnival vendors, throughout the early to middle of the 20th century, and was therefore considered the ‘poor man’s porcelain,’ especially since World War II prevented the importation of ceramics.
There are four categories of chalkware, which help to date certain pieces:
- 19th Century American folk art chalk- attributed to Italian and German immigrants who peddled their wares door to door
- Late-Victorian/Edwardian decorative ware- wall plaques, busts, sconces, etc- elegant items you’d see in a parlour or a library.
- carnival chalk- 1930s-Won from carnival booths, this is the most prevalent of all chalkware, and are seen in pastels and bright colors and sometimes incorporate glitter. They often have a pink tinge to them. The Kewpie figurine is probably the best known example of carnival chalkware. Below is a particularly creepy chalkware kewpie from the 1930s.
- Mid-20th Century decorative ware- 1940s and 50s-very popular because of the scarcity of imported ceramics after World War II. Chalkware during this time was composed in kitchy themes, like the wall plaque below.
I think this little horse is part of the 19th century folk art, as there are no seams, unlike later pieces of chalkware. Or, it could be a kid’s 5th grade art project, but I like the sound of immigrants peddling it from door to door better.
Additionally, it’s painted with an oil-based paint instead of watercolors. You can see it flaking and crazing, especially in the whites and black pigments.
It’s not signed, which makes me believe it’s an earlier piece. Contemporary chalkware and replicas are signed and dated on the base. Although, this base is throwing me a bit, as the piece is not hollow, and there are no seams that I see to indicate it was hollow then assembled afterwards.
Overall, I think this piece has a cute, clumsy charm. It’s fat little belly reminds me of my horse!
ArtFire. ‘Mixed Fruit Chalkware Plaque.’ ArtFire. 2013. Image. September 13 2013 http://www.artfire.com/ext/shop/product_view/surrenderdorothy/2137667/mixed_fruit_chalkware_plaque_huge_1950s_kitchen_kitsch/vintage/retro_kitsch/housewares
Branford House Antiques. ‘Carnival Chalk Ware.’ Branford House Antiques. 2013. Web. 12 September 2013 http://branfordhouseantiques.com/cgi-bin/p/awtp-product-category.cgi?d=branford-house-antiques&pc=10612
Branford House Antiques. ‘Kewpie Doll Carnival Chalkware.’ Branford House Antiques. 2013. Image. 15 September 2013 http://branfordhouseantiques.com/cgi-bin/p/awtp-product.cgi?d=branford-house-antiques&item=38033
Cowan, Wes. ‘ Nineteenth Century Chalkware.’ Cowan’s Corner: Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine. 2013. Web. 12 September 2013 http://www.go-star.com/antiquing/cowans_corner0607.htm
Gilbert, Anne. Chalkware Figures Gain Respect and Higher Prices.’ The Antique Detective: Southestern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine. 2013. Web. Sept 12 2013 http://www.go-star.com/antiquing/antique_detective0606.htm
Ruby Lane. ‘Vintage Chalkware Busts of Boy and Girl.’ Ruby Lane. Image. 12 September 2013 http://www.rubylane.com/item/556340-AG-574/Vintage-Chalkware-Busts-Boy-Girl-
Swift, Dannah. ‘How to Identify Chalkware.’ eHow. 2013. Web. 12 September 2013 http://www.ehow.com/how_6101069_identify-chalkware.html
Schwerdt, Arthur. ‘Old Chalk ware Finally Makes Its Mark. Cape May County Herald. 1 July 2009. Web. 12 September 2013 http://www.capemaycountyherald.com/article/51811-old+chalk+ware+finally+makes+its+mark
Vaillancourt Folk Art. ‘Chalkware.’ Vaillancourt Folk Art. 2013. Web. 12 September 2013 http://valfa.com/about/chalkware/