Folk Art or Fine Art? American Piqué Work Ring
This 19th century American-made ring may be at the crux of an argument which has existed among art historians, folklorists and critics. First we must begin with two working definitions—one of piqué work and the other of folk art.
Dating to the 17th century, piqué work is the decorative art of inserting minute bits of metal (often gold and silver) into a medium to form a design. Typically very exacting and painstaking, the work is often delicate and the patterns are usually small inlays such as flowers.
Folk art has traditionally been defined as works are produced by individuals who have little or no formal training in art. It is usually characterized as being rendered in a naïve style in which the rules of proportion and perspective are not incorporated and is usually produced by those who are compelled or driven to create, often using whatever materials may be available.
All hand-made, this is a scarce example of American piqué work. Designs consistent with 19th century Americana, such as the double heart, the acorn and the hand with pointing index finger, have been rendered in silver and gold inlay into a composite material which may be a type of gutta percha*. Each symbol has been hand wrought, placed within the inky black/brown material and secured with tiny tacks beneath each configuration. An inner liner of silver has been inserted within the interior circumference of the ring.
Art or craft? The decision is up to you.
Condition: Good to very good; overall light to medium wear to the gutta percha; a bit of patina and wear to pique work as well as on liner.
Measurements: ¼ of an inch (0.5 cm) in width by 1/8 of an inch (0.3 cm) in depth. Currently a size US 4-3/4 (UK I-3/4; Euro 15.5, 49 mm). This ring cannot be sized.
Date & Origin: Circa mid to later 19th century and is American in origin.
Overall Scale: Small
*Gutta percha was one of the first plastic materials. Made from a mixture of resins from Malaysian trees, it is a form of rubber-like gum which can be intricately carved or molded in various shapes.