Maker Mayhem: Low Moments in How-To History, Part 8

Burnt Matchstick Easter Decorations: When celebrating the Resurrection means looking no further than your ashtray. By Matt Maranian

By Matt Maranian at 4:00 am Fri, Aug 1, 2014

There seems to be something specific to the Christian faith that drives the non-trained artist to express their love of God with found objects, sundry recyclables, and repurposed household detritus. You don’t often see a Star of David hammered out in bottle caps, or a Muslim weaving a prayer rug from folded gum wrappers, and Buddhists don’t seem to bother much with pipe cleaners or cigar boxes. An effigy of L. Ron Hubbard in flattened soda cans and popsicle sticks? Even a Scientologist draws the line somewhere. When it comes to faith-based folk art of the outsider variety, Christians win, hands down.

In the frugal world of upcycled Christian crafts, we see here that even burnt matchsticks have everlasting life as an “Easter project,” but this how-to should come with a disclaimer; the maker’s use of blackened matchsticks is not some play on the concept of Ash Wednesday, but a nod to the turn-of-the-last-century folk craft known as Tramp Art. To clarify, Tramp Art is the term used for the small handcrafts made by boxcar-hopping ne'er-do-wells from low-quality scrap wood intricately cut or carved with a pocketknife, often constructed of many stacked pieces fitted together like a three dimensional puzzle.

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Matchstick folk art can mimic the look of Tramp art, and is attributed to the crafty but dirt-poor folks of the Appalachians circa the 1870s, and was also once a popular time-killer among the incarcerated. However, this how-to dates from nearly a century later, so for the Appalachian folk art laymen who might not be able to connect the dots, the net result here is simply a cross that appears to be badly singed. And there’s something just a wee bit unsettling about a cross with charred edges. Burnt crosses generally call to mind pointed white hoods, terms like “Grand Dragon,” and for those of us unfortunate enough to have been subjected to its heavy rotation in the '80s, that cloying Madonna video for “Like a Prayer,” none of which do a whole lot to put anyone in the Easter spirit, not even in the secular sense.

A low-budget holiday decoration, or a KKKraft? Your friends might be too afraid to ask—and may never show up for another Easter dinner.

Published 4:00 am Fri, Aug 1, 2014

About the Author

Matt Maranian is a bestselling writer, designer, and bon vivant whose books include PAD, PAD Parties, and the first and second editions of L.A. Bizarro. He lives in Southern Vermont.

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