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Cool Things - Folk Art Toys

Donkey and cart carved by Gust SandsA Topeka boy treasured these hand-carved toys given to him by artist Gust Sands.

Prior to the 1920s and 1930s, folk art was viewed as simplistic and merely functional. Since then, however, it has come into its own - highly respected and sought after because of its diversity and originality. The craftsmanship found in folk art is attractive to collectors and museums in an age when so many of our everyday items are machine-made.

Gust Sands, the artist who carved these figures, was born in 1877 and came from Sweden to the United States as a young boy. During adulthood he settled his family in Topeka where he worked as the Planing Foreman for Lundgren Construction for over 40 years. Sands also was an established cabinetmaker and woodcarver.

Like other folk artists, Sands was not formally trained in art nor did he create works for a particular market. He pursued his craft for personal pleasure.

Pinocchio carved by Gust SandsSands' style of folk art reflects both his Swedish heritage and American experience. Likewise, his work displays a sensitivity to children's play and imagination, as is evident by both the figures illustrated here.

Next to humans, animals are the most common subject in folk art. The donkey pictured above is pulling an old-style European cart. Carved from a single piece of wood, the beast's eyes are seed-beads and his harness is leather. The wheels, connected by an axle, turn when the donkey is pulled along.

The figure pictured at bottom represents Pinocchio from the well-known folk tale about a woodcarver's puppet who comes to life.

Bob Richmond, a neighbor of Gust Sands, donated these items to the museum in 1999. Bob's son, John, was fond of Sands and visited him regularly. Sands gave John Richmond these figures during one of his many visits.

Entry: Cool Things - Folk Art Toys

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2000

Date Modified: December 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.