This grouping of 18th century American powder horns is easily recognized to all be created by one hand. After more than 15 years of dedicated study there is no indication as to whom this maker was, nor where he was from. Early Americana and powder horn expert Walter O’Connor has labeled this 18th century craftsman, the “Folky Artist”.
Presently there are more than 50 of these horns known. Four are treasured by museums at Colonial Williamsburg, Davis-Elkins College, and Valley Forge. The 18th century owners of five of these horns are known. The few that are dated span from near the beginning of the French and Indian War to the American Revolution. The earliest dated horn is inscribed, New York Annu 1756. It is from the collection of George C. Neumann and now resides at the Valley Forge Museum in Pennsylvania. There are two other horns obviously dated by the maker and in each example the date is found in a cartouche; 1764 and 1775 respectively. The 1764 date accompanies the name John Jones, the only name found on any of the horns personally engraved by the Folky Artist.
These powder horns range from being almost archaic in nature, to very professionally wrought. They have been found as far north as Canada and at least six have southern provenance. There is much speculation and varied opinion as to where these horns are from or where they have been made. Originally it was thought the horns were from a southern school of horn making. Many horns have what are considered southern characteristics, palmetto trees, longleaf pine sprouts, a particular type of butt molding, and among other things cur dogs running deer. One of the two different cities or towns found on these horns is a water front city that could represent Charlestown, South Carolina. The Valley Forge horn is engraved New York, so we know the city on that horn depicts early New York. One horn has an alligator, a palm tree and what appears to be a Spanish Mission. And just above this feature is the Hessian symbol of a double-headed eagle. The only Hessian settlement in the south at that time was the Salzburger colony on Saint Simons Island just off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. A location as far North as one could expect to commonly find an alligator.
One of the most recognizable figures engraved by Folky Artist is an amusing hunter with bag, horn and flintlock rifle. He is dressed in colonial attire; knee breeches, frockcoat, complete with tricorn hat. Many times he is with his dogs running an almost comical bug-eyed deer. At least twice the “little man” is found portraying “Adam” with his hat in one hand accepting an apple from an 18th century clad “Eve” with the other. Often circle designs are found with two or three smaller spheres inside a larger one, with “sun, moon and stars” or other personified faces carved within them. This same compass scribe method is used to produce the center for his pseudo “Coat of Arms”. Other distinctive features are a moth like bug and/or a floral type vine with a bloom resembling a Scottish thistle blossom, a feature not unlike Fraktur style designs commonly found on Pennsylvania Dutch painted blanket chests. The Masonic image of King Solomon’s Temple is sometimes found suggesting a Masonic connection and the major element of design on another outstanding example is the Constantinople Eagle. There are two pillars supporting the crown above the eagles’ head, symbolic of the pillars of King Solomon’s Temple, and the eagle is also holding a sword in both talons. The Constantinople Eagle is a recent symbol of Free Masonry entering the Order in 1758.The creators were a group of Masons in Paris, France known as the Council of East and West. In 1761 the Council dispatched a Brother to America to establish Councils in several of the Colonies. One was established in Charleston, South Carolina. The Charleston Council found a very fertile environment and has prospered to the point that today it is considered to be the Mother Council of the World. This Horner was obviously a Mason and possibly a Scotsman. Rich Pouncey of Tallahassee, Florida suggests that perhaps he was a Jacobite and had to flee the country after the rebellion. “There were close ties between the Jacobites and intellectuals in France who were very active in supporting them in their attempt to restore control in Scotland and get away from English domination. He may well have called on his Brothers in France to spirit him out of harms way, thus the connection to the Constantinople Eagle”.
Folky Artist’ earlier work appears to mimic the higher art horns of the day with his own quirky version of the British Coat of Arms with a wild-eyed lion yet a rather nice unicorn. His work, the distinctive sculpture of the raw horn as well as the design of his engraving, is all very “folksy” in nature. Most of his horns would be considered small, 10 ½ to less than 15 inches along the curve. Only four horns are known that are larger. This trait leads one to consider that they were made for riflemen whose weapons commanded considerably less gun powder than the common muskets for which the large professionally engraved priming horns were being made. Upon inspection one must admit that although simple in nature, as a general rule his designs are neither too repetitious nor boring and noticeably create a feeling of intrigue. Each example of Folky Artist’ work provides particular traits giving us something to speculate upon as to where each individual horn was possibly manufactured or perhaps only engraved.
More than likely Folky Artist was on campaign, a soldier traveling as far north as the Canadian border, but also as far south as Savannah, Georgia. Almost all of these powder horns have been engraved with an empty cartouche, leading one to speculate that he was not taking orders, nor making horns for particular individuals. Several have owner’s initials or a date scratched in, but all these scratchings are from a different hand than that of the maker. There is only one horn with the owners name obviously engraved by the Folky Artist. He was producing these horns to make money or for trade to anyone he might encounter. Perhaps he was producing horns for a middleman, a merchant or a “drummer” as they would have been called in the day. Although his work is not what we would usually consider as professional, he was somewhat of a professional Horner. He was influenced by what was around him; where he was, the people, where they were from, and the norm of the accoutrements they used.
The known powder horns produced by the Folky Artist provide a rare look at 19 years of life of an 18th century artist. From studying the whole spectrum of horns dated from 1756 to 1775, it is easy to hypothesize that most were made in the field under a vast range of conditions, thus producing much variety in the quality of workmanship. Quite perhaps some were made under very good conditions and therefore were very well wrought. At least four of his horns have lathe turned bottoms suggesting a shop or place of business. Yet at the other end of the scale there are several that are rather rudimentary and one horn looks like it was perhaps a first attempt or maybe his last while laying on a deathbed!