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August 16, 2012

Tramp Art: Fascinating Folk Art Fashioned From Cigar Box Wood

Tramp art. Colonial Williamsburg’s newest museum exhibition title conjures up images of hoboes whittling and carving wood into small decorative items as they traveled the country. “Tramp Art” opens Saturday, Sept. 29 in Colonial Williamsburg’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, 326 West Francis St., Williamsburg.

For many years, the prevailing wisdom was that tramps were the ones who created the folk art made from carved cigar box wood. Although hoboes and itinerants did make some pieces, the majority were made by men residing at home. Most tramp art pieces are too fragile and intricate to have been made while traveling and many required more wood than would have been practical to transport.

“Whether made by a tramp or a man with leisure time, these objects continue to hold appeal for many people,” said Tara Chicirda, Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of furniture. “The character of each piece reflects the maker — often unidentified — who is remembered and admired today through the items he created.”

Notch or chip carving required few tools and little training. In the most common form of tramp art, notches were carved into the edges of cigar box wood, usually with a penknife, and the carved wood was then stacked and fastened with small nails or glue to create detailed three-dimensional designs. Men with spare time created layered objects that decorated homes of family and friends — a style that complemented the Victorian décor found in many late 19th-century homes.

“Tramp Art” opens Sept. 29 in the Peebles Gallery of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and will be on view through Sept. 7, 2014. Admission is by Colonial Williamsburg Revolutionary City admission ticket, Museum ticket or Good Neighbor Card.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are open daily, and hours vary seasonally. For museum program information, go online to or telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281