Mirrors ............... Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary

Tramp art mirror

Private collection, Amherst, NY

Making tramp art pieces became a popular pastime in the second half of the nineteenth century. Examples of these objects can be found in almost every region of the United States and also in Canada. Constructing a piece of tramp art did not require superior carving skills, elaborate tools, or costly materials. Patience, imagination, and a penknife were all that was needed.

Tramp art flourished in the United States from 1860 to 1930 and is easily recognized by its chip-carved decoration. The technique of chip carving was first introduced to America in the early nineteenth century by German and Middle European immigrants.


Wood is cut at an angle, usually in a "U" or "V" pattern, and the resulting chip is pried out. Tramp artists borrowed this technique and made it their own by using chip-carved decoration in conjunction with other materials, such as paint, discarded bits of cloth or leather, and shards of glass, to decorate all types of furnishings and household objects, from dining room sets to plant stands and crucifixes.

Discarded cigar boxes and fruit crates, made of soft, thin sheets of cedar, mahogany, and maple, usually provided the raw materials for the carved decoration. This decoration was then glued or nailed to the object or piece of furniture to be embellished.

The use of discarded and recycled materials, the commonness of both maker and the types of objects made, and the quirky and sometimes bizarre nature of the finished pieces may have contributed to the designation of this folk-art form as "tramp art" in the 1940s.

Tramp art was also called the "landlubber's scrimshaw" because of the painstaking and time-consuming nature of its creation.

As with most tramp art pieces, the maker of the pictured mirror is unknown.

Principal source of text: Virginia Historical Society

Photos and their arrangement © 2006 Chuck LaChiusa
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