AFAM unveils landmark exhibit of American weathervanes

Heart and Hand weathervane, created in 1839 by Ezra Ames and Bela Dexter of Chelsea, Mass. Photograph courtesy of David A. Schorsch and Eileen M. Smiles, Woodbury, Conn.

Heart and Hand weathervane, created in 1839 by Ezra Ames and Bela Dexter of Chelsea, Mass. Photograph courtesy of David A. Schorsch and Eileen M. Smiles, Woodbury, Conn.

NEW YORK – American Weathervanes: The Art of The Winds will be on view at the American Folk Art Museum from June 23 through January 2, 2022. The comprehensive exhibition is the first in more than four decades to highlight the beauty, technical virtuosity, and cultural significance of American vanes fashioned between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. A full-color, illustrated, 256-page hardcover book, written by Robert Shaw and published by Rizzoli Electa in association with the American Folk Art Museum, accompanies the exhibition. The exhibition is organized by Robert Shaw, guest curator, and Emelie Gevalt, the Museum’s Curator of Folk Art.

“As the Museum commemorates its 60th anniversary, we are thrilled to mark the occasion with this momentous exhibition and publication,” said Jason T. Busch, Director and Chief Executive Officer of AFAM. “We believe that American Weathervanes will be appreciated not only as a scholarly achievement but also as a celebration of the artistry of folk art for years to come.”

 Archangel Gabriel weathervane, created circa 1840 by an unknown artist. Photograph by John Parnell.


Archangel Gabriel weathervane, created circa 1840 by an unknown artist. Photograph by John Parnell.

The exhibition, which draws on important private and public collections across the US, encompasses a diverse range of forms made between the 1780s and 1914. Among the many highlights are a magnificent 1788 wooden rooster from Portland, Maine; an eagle and shield possibly made in the foundry of revolutionary patriot Paul Revere; a graceful figure of the Greek goddess Fame blowing a trumpet and standing en pointe like a celestial ballerina, attributed to E.G. Washburne & Co. in New York City; a fearsome dragon climbing a pole; a highly detailed touring car and driver; and an enormous monoplane modeled after the first aircraft to fly over the English Channel.

Dove of Peace weathervane, created in Philadelphia in 1787 by Joseph Rakestraw

Dove of Peace weathervane, created in Philadelphia in 1787 by Joseph Rakestraw.

“Weathervanes have always been at once tools and sculptural architectural elements, combining function with visual interest and symbolism,” said curator and author Robert Shaw. “This presentation will survey a wide array of American vanes and explore the meanings and sculptural power of some of the finest examples in existence.”

Touring car and driver weathervane, created circa 1910 by W.A. Snow Iron Works of Boston. Photograph by Adam Reich.

Touring car and driver weathervane, created circa 1910 by W.A. Snow Iron Works of Boston. Photograph by Adam Reich.

In addition to weathervanes, the exhibition will also include beautifully articulated wood sculptures by Harry Leach, which functioned as patterns for weathervane molds used by the firm of Cushing & White in Waltham, Massachusetts. Additionally, watercolors of historic weathervanes painted for The Index of American Design, a project created by the Works Progress Administration (WPA),  as well as rare archival materials that illuminate the development of the weathervane in the United States will be on view in the exhibition.

Curlew weathervane, created circa 1874 by an unknown artist. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor

Curlew weathervane, created circa 1874 by an unknown artist. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor

“As long champions of the weathervane’s artistic merit, the museum is honored to present this exhibition of vanes that showcases the skill and creativity behind this distinctive art form,” said Emelie Gevalt, Curator of Folk Art.

AFAM is located at 2 Lincoln Sq., Columbus Ave. at W. 65th St. in New York City.

Publication:

Authored by exhibition curator Robert Shaw, the book that accompanies the exhibition includes a foreword by Jason T. Busch and a chapter by Jennifer L. Mass, Ph.D., Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Cultural Heritage Science at the Bard Graduate Center. This influential scholarly work will significantly impact our understanding of this early American sculptural art form, serving as the authoritative text on American weathervanes for generations to come.

See the website of the American Folk Art Museum and see its page devoted to American Weathervanes: The Art of the Winds.