By Holly Glen Gearhart, Contributing Writer
Tole painting, a very old form of folk art typically done on objects rather than canvas, will be taught at the East County Senior Center beginning next month.
Community folk arts such as tole date back centuries, but as a commercial style for collectors, it was first mentioned in the United States the early 1900s.
Tole, in particular, is considered an “industrial” form of artistic expression because it is not painted on traditional canvas but on household items such as trays and coffee pots or even metal flywheels and saw blades. The art has become coveted in collecting circles because of the rise of the popularity of American folk art—art that demonstrates the cultural mix of the country.
Traditionally, tole painting is defined as one-stroke painting that does not use the complete color palate of watercolor or oil painting; it conforms the style to a handful of colors. The paintings are then lacquered onto the steel or tin, or even wood as pictured above.
In the U.S., tole was first practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch near the close of the Revolutionary War. Tin peddlers roamed the colonies, selling unpainted pots, pans, trays and the like, and the practice of decorating these household items spread.
Over time, tole methods became popular, though not always in their most traditional forms.
For example, tole art was a popular form of advertising, but it often wasn’t authentic; in this example, note the split in the middle of the plaque where time wore the wooden plaque apart because of the absence of lacquer. In the 1910s and on, the highways and roadways in the U.S. were perfect places for tole artists to take their technique and make money painting advertising art on sides of barns, serving trays and the like.
Traditional tole painting tells the story of the community from whence it came; and family stories are often reflected in the pieces that become heirlooms, such as the once-popular custom of tole painting a bride’s hope chest.
The East County Senior Center is offering tole painting classes beginning Sept. 11 at ECSC from 10 a.m. to noon. There is no formal registration for the class.
The fee is $7 per class. ECSC is located at 276 Sky River Parkway. If you need directions or have any questions, call (360) 794-6359.