Weathervanes are folk art – art that is both functional and decorative. These guides that tell you which direction the wind blows, have been around since 48 B.C. The earliest weathervane found was in honor of the Greek god Triton.
Generally, it is a figure that turns freely on a vertical rod and always points into the wind. Coming from the Anglo-Saxon word “fane,” meaning flag or banner, the weather vane became part of ancient cultures where life-sized replicas were hoisted atop structures. Traced back to ancient Greece, weathervanes were useful for civilizations because they were able to depend on them as indicators of weather patterns.
American colonists copied the sculpture of European weathervanes and as time passed the design became just as important as the function of the instrument. Patriotic designs emerged which included the Goddess of Liberty and eventually the eagle. New Englander’s designed fish, seagulls and ships, while farmers and settlers crafted shapes of animals, Indian heads and arrow points. In the late decades of the 19th century, Victorian buildings had fancy weather vanes and elaborate metal work embellishments, covering nearly every inch of their roofs.
After 1900, simpler styles began to emerge. The introduction of the silhouette weather vane depicted humorous scenes, often sporting scenes or figures. Today, in areas of winds and quick directional changes, weather vanes are very popular. It seems like everyone is always looking out to see the ferocity and direction of the wind.
Very windy areas are especially good places to research different forms and designs of weather vanes. Once a symbol of a simpler life weathervanes have evolved into more elaborate pieces of art. Artisans have made their weathervanes into almost anything that can be blown in the wind. Something as simple as long splinters of wood shingles (one thicker than the other one) can be transformed into a crude weather vane.
Want to see some weathervanes? Check out these sites:
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT
Mingei International,San Diego, CA