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Eric Sloane, the true father of American History & Folklore Books

Updated on January 4, 2015

Who is Eric Sloane?

Eric Sloane (1905 - 1985) was an American landscape painter, and the author of many American cultural/social books and folklore. As a painter he was a member of the Hudson River School, and painted an amazing 15,000 paintings during his long career. He left home at 14 and worked his way across America as an itinerant sign painter. In out of the way rural places, you can still find battered signs created by him. In later life, he wrote more than thirty books on Americana, folklore, historic crafts, the weather and barns... yes barns, he had a fascination for them. Here we will have a look at what makes Sloane's book unique; so informative and yet beautiful!

Unique Qualities of Sloane's Books

Eric Sloane's books are quite unique in my opinion. Apart from the front covers, they don't generally feature his paintings, however each page has magnificent line drawings by the author, often many of them, and his skills as a sign painter are put to good work in the hand drawn lettering of his titles and captions. Eric Sloane also spent a lifetime collecting old traditions and titbits of America, and his delight in his subject is obvious.

I think the best way to show how wonderful his books are is to look at my favourite two in more detail:

Diary of an Early American Boy

The author found a notebook at a jumble sale, written by a young boy in rural America in 1805. It described his daily life on a New England farm, his chores and the work on the farm, his family, his neighbours, the weather and lots more. He includes some extracts from the notebook, and paraphrases quite a bit more. What is really great about the book though is the way that a chance phrase by the young boy causes Sloane to dive into an entertaining explanation of what the boy meant. A mention of building a fence causes the author to talk about the different types of fencing in America at the time, along with his excellent illustrations.

The book starts with a description of the notebook, its pages and the ink on the page. He includes a snippet explaining the habit of throwing sand onto a page to help the ink dry. He also comes up with recipes for brown, black and blue ink that Americans of yesteryear would have used to make the ink (brown is made of "boiled down walnut or butternut hulls that have been mashed first...and vinegar and salt to boiling water to set". This gives a little flavour of the fascinating details in the book.

From 'Diary of an Early American Boy' by Eric Sloane
From 'Diary of an Early American Boy' by Eric Sloane
Dating an old building - from 'A Reverence for Wood' by Eric Sloane
Dating an old building - from 'A Reverence for Wood' by Eric Sloane

A Reverence for Wood

A Reverence for Wood is about just what it says it is about...wood. Eric Sloane is passionate about the topic, describing (and illustrating) in detail the many different types of wood available in America of yesteryear, together with the ways they were worked. It is clear that a huge amount of interesting research has taken place. There's many lovely full pages of illustrations (they'd be called infographics today) on topics such as 'the anatomy of wood warp-age', 'dating an old building' and 'world of wooden things'. There so much fascinating information here, not just useful for people who work with wood, but also for anyone at all interested in history, heritage and traditional crafts. You can see from the picture, the kind of detail portrayed within it.

Review of "Seasons of America Past"

Review of "America"

Lots More

There are plenty more Eric Sloane books that you might enjoy in a similar format including:

Once Upon a Time: The Way America Was
Weather Book
Book of Storms
American Yesterday
The Cracker Barrel
Seasons of America Past
Museum of Early American Tools
Do's and Don'ts of Yesteryear: A Treasury of Early American Folk History

You can hear from the titles, the kind of books Eric Sloane gives us and looking at the beautiful illustrations above just how unique and lovely they are. If you are interested in any of the topic areas this would be an absolutely fantastic port of call and a fun starting point.


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