The love that the inhabitants of the Alpstein massif have for beautiful things is reflected in the brilliant colours of the farmhouses, in artistically carved furniture, in the brass ornaments on the herdsmen’s clothes and in the delicate decorations on the women’s traditional costumes.
Folk art has a special position in the local cultural life. The earliest records of this form of art date back to the 16th century. Prestigious interiors, and later on furniture, were painted with decorations from the world of plants and animals. In the 18th century, allegorical scenes were very popular, e.g. hunting stories, depictions of farm life or from the bible. Most furniture painters remained anonymous. However, it is thought that they were seldom ordinary folk or farmers and were far more likely to be itinerant artists. As with church decorations, Innerrhoder traditional costumes and numerous other attire, the roots of folk art also show links with the culture of Southern Germany and even Austria.
At the end of the 18th century painters from the region combined baroque elements with what they saw in their everyday lives. Furniture painting turned into folk art. The recognised founder of the genre is Conrad Starck (1769 – 1817) from Gonten. He was probably the first person to portray the ascent to the alpine summer pastures– the main motif for subsequent Appenzell folk art (also known as «Senntumsmalerei», the illustration of the life of the herdsman).
The pioneer of panel paintings, which came into fashion after the fall in popularity of furniture painting, was Bartholomäus Lämmler (1809 – 1865) from Herisau. The painting of «Fahreimerboden» (milking pail bottoms) and «Sennenstreifen» (long narrow paintings of alpine cattle drives on paper or wood) depicted the entire possessions of the herdsman.
Although the panel paintings still featured animals, primarily alpine cattle drives, as the central motif, other subjects were now added, such as buildings, people, the environment and the imposing alpine landscape. The folk artists – predominantly male – started to enjoy real success in the second half of the 19th century and the technique, style and motifs have since hardly changed. These days the works of contemporary folk artists are highly sought after by art lovers and collectors. The subjects are, however, no longer restricted to farming life and therefore also tell of everyday activities, festivals and customs.