SANTA FE, New Mexico — To the uninitiated, the phrase “tramp art” probably evokes a stereotypical hobo, train hopping with a cartoonish bindle or drinking moonshine around a fire pit. This was even the case for Laura Addison, curator of North American & European Folk Art at New Mexico’s famed Museum of International Folk Art, who organized No Idle Hands: The Myths and Meanings of Tramp Art, a massive survey of work within this genre.
“It was a learning occasion for me, because I had the idea that it was made by tramps,” said Addison, in an interview with Hyperallergic. “But more and more, it appears that’s not the case.”
“[Tramp art] was made by family men with settled home lives,” writes Addison in an article for the spring 2017 issue of El Palacio. “Signed tramp art pieces and anecdotal evidence demonstrate that is was a working class pursuit characterized by pragmatism and thrift.” Indeed, it is difficult to imagine someone with an itinerant lifestyle having any need for the decorative boxes, picture frames, furniture, and devotional objects, decorated with repetitious and painstaking care that are characteristic of tramp art.