Thursday, January 30, 2014

Strange Attractions...

Some things are little mysteries.  Like my somewhat strange attraction to the carved wooden figures of Native Americans that can be found outside of cigar stores or in high end antique shops.  They have an interesting history.  Tobacco was introduced to remarkably ungrateful early visitors to Virginia by Native Americans and as the fondness -- or craving -- for tobacco took hold, the two became entwined.  In England, small counter-top sized wooden carvings of Indians appeared in the early to mid 1700’s.  Life-sized “Cigar store indians” have been around in the U.S. since the early 1800’s.  Some are elegantly carved, others are more crude, but at a time when many were illiterate they clearly marked a shop as one carrying tobacco products.  

Like the large carved wooden signs depicting eyeglasses, the ubiquitous red and white striped barber shop pole and the over-sized key of the locksmith, these hand carved and brightly painted figures were effective advertising.  They were also, for the most part, inaccurate, as many of the craftsmen had never seen a Native American during careers working in shipyards carving fantastical mastheads of buxom babes for wooden sailing ships.  As steamships made their debut in the 1800's, craftsmen turned their skills to advertising and imagination.

To some, they are understandably controversial figures, but they evoke a tenderness in me I don’t really understand.  I see so much in their weathered and worn, aged-by-time faces, in their costume and in their stance — each one looks as though it wants to tell me a story. Here’s a small collection of some I’ve noticed and photographed.  What do you see in them?

Jackson Hole, WY

Jackson Hole, WY


Washington, DC

Philadelphia, PA

Lots of interesting things catch my eye.  Come visit my shop
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Thanks for stopping by.  E. England


  1. I never knew that little tidbit of history, Elizabeth! Now I'll look at those figures from a new perspective. With the exception of the first one, they all look so stern. Maybe it was the oldest form of a "smoking kills" warning, hehe... buyer beware :)
    I agree, though, that old sculptures and artwork can often trigger a mysterious sense of understanding or empathy. Strange... xx

  2. They are truly vivid and colorful. I didn't know they depicted that the store sells cigarrettes. Great post, thanks for sharing!

  3. For me, half the fun of writing my little blogs is the research...I should have been a librarian or a History Detective (love that show). Glad you both enjoyed it. xo