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Folk-Art Beauty Is in Eye of Beholder

May 22, 1986|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: How active is today's folk-art marketplace?--L.T.

Answer: Quite active. But collectors say it is a very subjective market. For example, an item's age alone may not play a primary role in determining value. Beauty, usually in the eyes of the beholders, can cause long bargaining sessions. Determining authenticity is a must in establishing value.

Much of the activity in folk art has occurred in the last couple of decades, with collectors searching towns off the beaten track for carvings, calligraphic drawings, paintings and the like. The Appalachian area of the Eastern United States has been a prime reservoir for such items.

Sometimes just walking around a community, looking in store windows, talking to the locals and watching for yard sales in the local paper provide leads on where to find an area's folk art that may have been preserved for years and simply overlooked.

Among museums that feature folk art are the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, N.M.

Q: How does one go about determining the age of beads? I have a fairly large collection that hasn't been sorted. Now that I'm retired and have some time, I'd like to do some research and establish order to my collection.--M.B.

A: You'll have to start reading some bead history. There are a number of books at your public library that will give you some archeological background on bead evolution. This knowledge, for example, will allow you to date beads. Early beads were relatively uneven and made of natural materials, such as stones or seashells, with holes drilled in them.

When you study how beads are finished, you may be able to spot their countries of origin.

Studying the work of the American Indian will open up a collectible area for you that has soared in value in recent years. Using shells and stones, Indian-bead workmanship often consisted of sewing beads to fabric, such as leather or cloth--an art mastered long before the first white settlers arrived in this country.

Ultimately, you will want to tag your collection so that you have data on where you purchased your beads, their prices and origins. Acquiring thousands of beads won't mean much to you or other collectors unless you have some way of sorting and classifying them.

Q: I've been collecting commercial aviation playing cards for several years and would like to know if there is much interest in such things among collectors.--M.S.

A: There are collectors worldwide who compete aggressively for playing cards produced by the world's airlines.

Some cards recently produced by American carriers may only sell for a few dollars a set. But some harder-to-get decks manufactured years ago for domestic or foreign carriers can easily sell for more than $20 a deck.

What's more, a relatively new field of airline collectibles seems to have sprung up in the last decade, according to some dealers. Aside from playing cards, collectors have exchanged airline pins, baggage tags, calendars, books, posters and even dinner-service items.

We suggest, however, before you pocket a fork from your next first-class meal, that you ask the flight attendant's permission.

Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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