History of Tramp Art

... Tramp Art is also a wanderer's art form: so again, there are no written records of the carvers' work. The stories of this art form became the facts; the misconceptions became the truths. There were no rules for constructing the pieces; materials were whatever the carver had available; decorations were whatever he could produce or find. Within the context of his own imagination, experience, and abilities, the carver assimilated what he saw with what he had to work with. He then translated and created what he saw into works of art by using his pocketknife and the ever-present cigar box.

Like the hobo, the tramp was a wanderer, but unlike the hobo, he was not a worker. Most tramps lived by their wits, some by petty thievery and begging, some by robbery and murder. The hobo feared the tramp and was contemptuous of him as a loafer, while the tramp despised the hobo as a sucker for working.

The distinction between tramps and hoboes, however, was not always discernible. Many men, and women, lived in both worlds, hoboing to make a "stake," then living without working until the stake ran out. Some hoboes became tramps, especially when there was no work to be found, and some tramps became hoboes. But even though tramps and hoboes often lived in different worlds, as far as work and philosophy were concerned, they were forced to share the same space. Hoboes and tramps together flipped the same trains, ate and slept in the same jungles, and were locked up together in the same jail cells.

The tramp world, however, had its own society separate with its own rules and its own hierarchy. At the top of the list was the "profesh," or professional tramp. He was distinguishable because of his good clothes, his habits of neatness, and that he often slept on newspapers.

The typical tramp, as we think of him, was a "fakir." He was part conman and part repairman or apprentice of a trade, such as a tinsmith, carpenter, blacksmith, etc. Many fakirs were very skilled but preferred to wander from town to town, searching for work when they felt like it.

The common meeting ground of both hoboes and tramps was the "jungle." [cont'd]