We often go right past actually defining this word, because we eagerly want to get on to all the kinds of Americana. The term itself does reference the United States in a general sense, but especially its customs and way of life.
Americana is what makes America itself at its heart.
The myriad individual things that go into how it is acknowledged.
You will find that it is full of nostalgia for past ways of life, vintage collectibles, and small-town living.
This is a cultural term that does relate to the values inherent in our democratic system but takes them as given.
It is all about the American Dream.
What is typical of any culture? It is what comprises the substance of a society or civilization: what are the characteristics that classically make it up and are specifically recognizable in its people.
We will break down the discussion into its parts, so we can talk about some of the fascinating features that sum up to the whole of Americana: the land’s music, art, fashion, decor, and crafts.
Music – retro U.S.A. updated for today
Many folks, when they hear the name Americana think first of all of music. Songs are likely the most well known and popular of what makes up Americana.
First off, when we think of Americana music we think of the vibes of the early centuries of our nation. But not so. That is what roots is.
When applied to tunes, it refers to modern times. It is what today’s artists make when they interpret recent versions of the genres that roots music led to over the years. These categories, of course, include folk, bluegrass, country, gospel, and more.
Heroes you probably have heard of include The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons. Some individual artists and other groups are finally getting recognition in the late 2010s for their super sound that is new-old. Check out the AmericanaFest of the Americana Music Association.
We listen to the surprising and really terrific Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.
“You Worry Me ” (Live on KEXP), recorded 2/6/18
We have an entire blog post on roots music. So go to it, and enjoy!
Art – a slice of American life
It is also common to see people recognizing the artistry of Americans, although the response is a bit diverse.
This designation is pretty specific, actually. It does not just mean the art made by Americans. It means that the subject is “a slice of American life” in a charming and nostalgic way.
Who has not heard of Norman Rockwell or Grandma Moses? Look at the works of these traditionally beloved visual geniuses:
Norman Rockwell – quintessential Americana illustrator
Norman Rockwell is a perfect example.
He was the artist for hundreds of covers of the magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, starting before 1920 and ending in the 1960s. The magazine, too, is classical for this genre.
This artist’s output seemed mundane to some people in those years.
Now they are recognized to be stunning visually.
As well as cleverly accurate in their humorous, loving depictions of “average” citizens engaged in the movement of “ordinary” life.
See another one of Rockwell’s enjoyable Post covers in our article on the Roaring Twenties.
Grandma Moses – exemplary folk artist in later life
It is folk art that is most fabulously Americana. “Homespun” and “bucolic” are words we find frequently used.
It is called primitive or naive because it lacks the skilled use of perspective, subtle coloring, and nuances of form that we are used to seeing in the paintings of traditionally educated artists. Renditions are often stylized rather than realistic.
The fame of Grandma Moses started at the advanced age of 78 years!
It was in the early 1940s that she began to paint.
Anna Mary Robertson Moses was not entirely new to artwork earlier in her life.
She had been an avid embroiderer but had to give up the endeavors when she developed arthritis.
Most often you think of paintings when the term “art” is employed. Remember, however, that art includes other forms, too.
Photographs, sculptures and other statues, and also literature, books, and manuscripts are kinds of artful expressions. You will find typical American artfulness in all of these.
Fashion – early American style revisited
We tend to neglect this category since our primary interest is home living rather than clothing styles. But there it is; it’s too bad we haven’t emphasized it more, because it’s a pretty interesting and well-liked subject.
- denim jeans
- checked shirts
- big belt buckles
- cowboy hats & boots
Our list reads like stuff out of a country store of the past century, doesn’t it?
But the same Old West items are being updated in an early 21st-century style for city slickers, too.
These can ring of pure bright nostalgia of heritage clothing, or be so exaggerated as to have a counter-culture flavor or extreme modernism, instead.
Home decor – patriotic and vintage
In all its forms, it frequently exhibits a patriotic flare. Displays of flag-related pictures, bunting, and art objects abound. Red, white, and blue predominate.
Decor in our houses, especially when dressed for the country’s specific holidays, can emphasize this to the maximum. On the Fourth of July, Labor Day, or Veteran’s Day, these trends are most appropriate and welcome. From your living room to the neighborhood parade and county fair, it’s a grand match to fireworks and backyard barbecues.
The rest of the year, these marked renditions of patriotism can feel a bit much. So it’s ok to relegate them to the closet or garage storage until next time.
In the meantime, for every day, adding back historical themes, especially colonial accents, and vintage knickknacks keep alive the feelings of national pride and belonging that many of us strive to continue.
Kitsch – the country’s folklore
Iconic cultural objects abound in our everyday lives. They populate our smaller art pieces, household ornaments, and advertising graphic designs. Even clothing and other wearables.
They come out of folklore, national and regional myths, and historical artifacts.
Sports, entertainment, and food of our youth generate their backstories, too. They do not exclude places and architectural wonders.
When exaggerated or exalted to the max, almost an embarrassment of gaudiness or sentimentality we say they are kitschy.
You may snicker, but we know you will come around once you realize you love kitsch too.
DIY and crafts – U.S. holidays and gifts
Do you adore home crafts and do-it-yourself hobbies? Yes, you do. Making your own pieces of American-related art or decorating is a heck of a lot of fun.
Costs can be minimized compared with what the family might spend in stores for “bought” articles.
Plus, all the participants can individualize and personalize to their heart’s content.
You can work on designs for the holidays, after school kids’ activities, and gifts for family or friends.
So there you have it: an introduction to what Americana is all about and really means. You can see why we said it is about the heart of America. It’s all about the vividness of everyday life but also evokes nostalgic memories and hopes for future living.
Before you go
Thanks for reading our post. We’ve been fascinated by the topic and look forward to developing more posts on the subject along the way.
Are you interested in home decor? You may like our post on how to relate your interior decor to your house style.
We have a number of articles on U.S.A. themes: especially music, such as the most popular traditional patriotic songs. Also, a bit of light history. Here’s one about the 1950s version of the American Dream.
Thank you and bye for now.