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Folk Culture in Wisconsin

The objects in this exhibition provide only a sampling of regional folk culture, but considered as a group, they help weave a tapestry that gives Wisconsin a distinctive sense of place. Objects of Wisconsin folk culture demonstrate the many ways in which people have communicated their ethnic, geographic, religious, and occupational identities to one another. They provide evidence of personal connections within and between cultures and across generations.

An examination of how and why these artifacts were made and used sheds light on people's sense of self and community.

Making Personal Connections

Many folk objects are natural expressions of rituals and customs common to particular groups or locales. They serve the practical, social, and communal needs of everyday life. In doing so, they communicate the position of the individual maker and user within his or her ethnic, occupational, or geographic community. Immigrants brought many of these objects to Wisconsin and passed their traditions of manufacture and use on to later generations.

Public Displays

In such culturally diverse places as Wisconsin, folk artists often convey ethnic, geographic, and occupational identity through objects that are traded, sold, and displayed at festive public events. Makers often self-consciously create these artifacts for audiences outside their own immediate communities. Some of these objects romanticize a bygone era; others combine elements of everyday mass culture and esoteric folk culture.


Folk objects grounded in the distinctive customs of bygone tribal villages, ethnic neighborhoods, lumber camps, and farmsteads inspire artists to revive, replicate, and reinterpret old traditions. Seeking a sense of identity and valuing a connection to the past, people make and use folk objects as alternatives to mass production and the whims of fashion.

Three different folk art duck decoys made by Wisconsin residents.

Duck Decoys Created by Wisconsinites

Wisconsin Folk Objects Communicate Identity

Three very different duck decoys demonstrate the variety of ways Wisconsin residents communicate their identities to one another.

In the top left is a male canvasback duck decoy carved by Fred Bliefernich of Princeton, Wisconsin, created to represent a personal connection between the hunter and a Wisconsin tradition.

In the top right is a finely detailed male bluebill duck decoy, carved by Milton Geyer of Green Bay, Wisconsin, meant to display his carving abilities.

At the bottom is a rosemaled carved duck created by Vi Thode of Stoughton, Wisconsin, a sculpture inspired by two Wisconsin folk practices of rosemaling and decoy making. Vi used her skill in Norwegian-American folk art to decorate a classic symbol of Wisconsin duck hunting and woodcarving.