Weathervanes weather tests of time


A barn without a weathervane seems wanting for completion.

Weathervanes were a necessity in the beginnings of our colonies. Later, after years of a wind direction device, they slowly became an ornament on other structures other than barns.

The large amount of designs of weathervanes collectively termed Americana are not entirely an old item.

‘Showy and worldly.’ Our early colony farmers disdained any form of decoration. Their religious understandings forbid such a luxury, especially on barns. To display such an item as weathervanes was showy and worldly.

Undoubtedly the first wind direction indicator may have been merely a piece of cloth fastened to a pole.

There are probably records stating that golf tournaments in Scotland employed a device that could be named a weathervane.

Quite early golf tournaments relied upon this article to reveal wind direction and velocity to aid their golf balls onto the course. These were called “feather balls” due to their contents of feathers.

Therefore a person can vision the need for wind information.

Rough model. A pun that is also a part of Americana stated weathervane craftsman was asked if he could construct a item to indicate wind velocity.

He answered that he placed a length of chain to do so, when the chain stood out horizontally there was a gale blowing.

Along with this local fable, many early Yankee weathervanes bore chain motifs on them.

Wood and metal. Naturally, all quite early types were made of wood. Due to the natural properties of wood – wear, breaks and more perishable than metal types – only a few weathervanes constructed in the 1700s and 1800s remain.

As a matter of fact, early 1900 examples are often difficult to locate.

The early weathervanes, like many other articles around all settlements and farms, were made utilizing wood for most parts.

Apparently designs were only regulated by lack of imagination and skill therefore an endless concept of forms were constructed.

Some forms were quite easy to make, some such as designs employing several parts or combinations of materials required some expertise.

Almost all were hand painted and a few older weathervanes retain those homemade paints.

However, considering the original paint, due to the fact of damage by the elements, wear and tear was quite common therefore many older types may have been painted several times.

Indian influence. Around 1900 the constant migration west waned and the Native American Indian was either contained or absent in their natural home, west of the Mississippi.

Early weathervanes depicted the Indian in many configurations, especially holding a bow or tomahawk.

Silhouette weathervanes were often to indicate movement, and full bodied types did not impart this sense.

Maritime theme. Because whaling was during our early eras the major industry along our New England coast, fish, mermaids, ships, and representations of the men who plied the seaways or on the docks were numerous on weathervanes.

By mid 1800, the Industrial Revolution was quite entwined throughout our nation.

The days of home crafted articles were diminished in large numbers, the low cost mass production had come on the scene.

Weathervanes were then made available, like many other articles in use nationwide, to customers below medium income.

Smiths wrought weathervanes with the initials of the householder or the date of the buildings construction. The vane was frequently cut to reveal to the observer the pattern of some animal, bird or fish seen against the sky.

Today only a few tall structures display a weathervane, and the eagle is the most seen.


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