Folk art canes

089- Folk art shoe
One-piece folk art cane with shoe handle. Very detailed high-top shoe with button closure. Ca. 1900-1920.

Unlike their more formal counterparts, folk art canes, by definition, were made by single, untrained artisans. Their purpose was to cast attention on the creator and not the carrier.  Folk art canes were an expression of the artist’s skill and personality, bringing a sense of time, place and individuality to their sticks.  Each stick is as unique as the carver, small pieces of sculpture really, offering the viewer a glimpse into the world of the carver and the ever changing character of the world in which they lived .

Folk art dog head stick with bakelite “top hat,” along the tapering shaft is lacquered inked and etched illustrations of a woman’s head with floral and geometric design. Brass ferrule. English, ca. 1930.

Although wooden canes with interestingly carved handles and folk art canes are roughly dated between the Civil War and World War I, it is often difficult to date period folk art canes.   Materials, identifiable symbols carved into the stick, and possibly a distinctive carving or construction style are clues used to determine where and possibly by whom the stick was made, but many folk art canes cannot be dated or identified with any certainty.

There were known regional carvers using materials native to a narrow geographical location, but many woods are not easily identifiable as most canes were painted or stained, and if a ferrule is present, no wood is exposed to identify the specific type.

Period folk art canes were often decorated by the artists to identify themselves as individuals or members of a group, vehicles through which personal communication was made, perhaps celebrating an event like the Columbian Exposition, sporting event, fraternal emblems like Odd Fellows, or veteran’s group (GAR).  Some carvers communicated through their carvings using words, portraits or other symbols related to their professions.

Sierra Exif JPEG
Hand-carved folk art walking stick. Carved from one piece of wood, it features a movable ball inside a four-sided cage. The ball is about 5/8” in diameter and the four slots or windows are ½” by 5” each. The ball freely rolls the length of the slots. A metal plate is attached on one side of the cane with the name G.S. Forgey and the date 1869. Total length 35-1/2″. Small metal ferrule.


Almost all native animals from the natural world were captured by cane carvers, perhaps snakes the most common and the perfect form to wrap around the shaft.   Human figures, themes of daily life, politics, sports, mythological creatures, religious figures, canes with interlocking pieces or cages for balls, were left by the carver to posterity in walking stick form.

009- Child's alligator
Child’s folk art cane with alligator carved handle. Length: 21″. Early 20th century.
Great old parrot folk art walking stick. The shaft is a natural branch with many knots. It has the original bark. The ferrule is tapered brass that was soldered and a steel billet tip. There is an eyelet with an old cord through it. Overall size: 35” tall. Tip is 2-1/4” tall. Nice dark shiny patina on the bark. A couple of splits, which do not weaken cane. The parrot is tucking its head off to one side as they often do. Good weight to the stick. 4 protrusions of the limbs on the bottom of the shaft.
Detailed bird’s head at the end of a crook, a carved bird in flight just below the crook, which wraps around the handle. The shaft of the cane is adorned with what appears to be finely ornate leaves. Ca. 1900.
Various creatures in relief, interacting, with snake eating frog who is eating lizard, etc. Carvings all along shaft. American, 1880-1900. Below right, geometrically inlaid wood folk art cane, American, ca. 1900. Snake encircling shaft. Tack eyes.


Because canes are no longer fashionable, contemporary walking sticks are considered works of art rather than utilitarian objects, and sold more as general art.

One must consider the challenges faced by the carver, period or contemporary, working with a piece of wood perhaps 36″ in length and 1-1/2″ in width!

Cane with carved wood exterior in the form of tree bark with lighter knots forming medallions with various animal carvings including owls, birds, fish, deer, squirrel, raccoon, fox, dog and more, 31 in total different animal carvings on shaft. End of curved handle with metal accent. Cane height 35″. The design as well as the rough carving speak for a singular “German folk art” creation. Authenticity, integrity, well drawn lines, quirky handle proportions, bold silhouette, appealing texture, original surface, untouched patina, sculptural form, charm, a certain individuality of spirit plus a touch of eccentricity are found. Further pictures below. Ca. 1875-1900.


Folk art walking sticks and Black Forest attribution
Regarding “Black Forest” attribution for the walking stick detailed above, per Youssef Kadri, a name well known in the cane collecting world, “The term “Black Forest“ has been used and abused and became over time a “brand name” for all sorts of wood carvings. While there have been many recorded wood carving manufacturers for cuckoo clocks which made the reputation of the area, none is listed to have produced canes. Also, I never came across a cane with irrefutable hints that it was made in the “Black Forest.” The trees found in that area and consequently the woods are not suitable for walking sticks.”

Carved dark wood folk art walking stick, knob top and 4 carved ivory panels inlaid into the top of the shaft. The panels have initials (AR), 2 hearts, a hand, and the date 1883. 35” long. Pictures below: Shaft, more ivory inlay.


Folk art cane with eagle, horse and shield on handle and variety of decorate carving down shaft. 36” in length. Stout stick, quite heavy. Possibly Civil War period.
Folk art dog head handle walking stick. Originally crafted in the 1800’s, this 36” folk art cane was carved out of a one-piece sapling. The handle is crafted into the shape of a dog’s head that is 4.25” long and 0.75” wide. The shaft terminates in a brass & iron mud tip that is 4” long. Ca. mid-1800’s.
Detail: Chicago World’s…
Detail…Fair 1893
1893 World’s Fair/Columbian Exposition. Evidently the method they used to carve this piece was patented. Picture below of patent mark. Design on shaft appears to be a relief carving of the continents of the world. The wood is a hard wood but fairly lightweight. Cane has a simple crook handle.



Stick above:  Carved from one piece of wood (maple?) to look like a closed umbrella.  The drape and fold of the fabric right down to the button clasp and tips of the umbrella spines are well done.  A natural knob top of the handle contrasts the carved draping. A white metal band around the handle reads, “J.H. Gillespie, Victoria, BC.  The ferrule and umbrella cap are brass. The stick measures 36” long, the knob top is 2” x 1-3/4” x 3-3/4” with the tip being 3-5/8”.  The very tip of one of the umbrella spines is missing, along with minor wear to the dark stain of the “fabric” part of the umbrella.

A one piece carved natural branch with what appears to be a smiling Buddha and a brass ferrule. Overall length 36″. Ca. 1885
Shaft is branch with squared off knobs. The wood has patchy portions of heartwood with a dappled effect of dark and light. Ca. 1900.

087- Fruitwood cockatiel

Above, a decorative Viennese cane with a huge fruitwood handle on its Malacca shaft with silver collar and bronze ferrule. The 6-3/4” high and 3” wide handle is well carved in the shape of a cockatiel with a nicely inclined head, large crest, strong bill, and with two inset, colored glass eyes. Embellished by a continuous use of over a whole century, this cane acquired over time a desirable, individual soul, revealed by aged surface with slight wear coupled to a splendid, warm toned patina. Overall length 38-1/2”. The motif of the cockatiel came into fashion with the first aviary appearing around 1860, giving to the public in major European cities, for the first time, the chance to see many of the exotic birds of the world.



1.    Folk Art Canes – Personal Sculpture, George H. Meyer.


For antique cane and walking stick enthusiasts