The Goddess of Liberty & More Whimsical Weathervanes

Figure of a woman holding an American flag.
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Crowned by sculptures of mythological beasts to famed racing horses, weathervanes are a uniquely American folk art, at once practical and whimsical, prized for their often playful imagery. Beyond David Teiger’s great interest in contemporary art, he was a passionate collector of sculptural American folk art with a collection that includes many of the most exemplary American weathervanes, including a Goddess of Liberty, a stag and even a salmon. Click ahead to discover the intriguing stories behind a few of our favorites.

The Goddess of Liberty & More Whimsical Weathervanes

  • Uncle Sam on a Bicycle, by Jack Mongillo. Estimate $15,000–30,000.
    Mongillo, an Italian-born immigrant who lived most of his long life in the northwestern New York city of Salamanca, about sixty miles south of Buffalo, created this large whirligig of Uncle Sam on a bike to top his barn. A windmill at the back of the structure kept the figure and wheels in motion. “Early Bird Gets the Worm,” another amusing whirligig attributed to Mongillo, is in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum.
  • Leaping Stag, American School, 19th century. Estimate $60,000–120,000.
    Several other examples of this charming early vane form are known. This stag's drilled eye and large, bent over rack of antlers set it apart from deer designs offered by other, later vane manufacturers as Jewell, Cushing, Harris, and Fiske.
  • Formal Horse, American School, 19th century. Estimate $6,000–8,000.
    Cast iron horses of this elegant stylized form have been attributed to the Rochester Iron Works in Rochester, New Hampshire for many years, but diligent research has turned up no record of a firm of that name nor of any iron works in Rochester or any other New Hampshire community known to have made weathervanes. While its name and location remain a mystery, the company that created this vane offered identically shaped horses and roosters in two sizes; all of the vanes have molded, two-part cast iron bodies and sheet iron tails. The example is the smaller of the two sizes.
  • Lyre and Scroll Bannerette, American School, 19th century. Estimate $5,000–7,000.
    Flat sheet metal bannerettes were common church vanes throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Many included openwork in their symmetrical classically themed designs, which visually lightened and added formal interest to their sometimes substantial lengths. The lyre is an ancient Greek string instrument that according to one mythological account was invented and strummed by the god Hermes and has long been associated with poetry and religion. Lyre shapes were common elements of the classical revival design style that became popular in the early years of the American republic.
  • Angel Gabriel, American School, 19th century.Estimate $60,000—90,000.
    The Archangel Gabriel is best known as the New Testament's angel of the Annunciation, sent by God to tell Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. While he is not described as a trumpeter in the Bible, the fourteenth-century English theologian John Wycliffe first identified him as the trumpeter who would announce the Lord's return to earth, and that association went on to become part of Christian tradition.

    Weathervanes representing a trumpeting Gabriel became popular symbols on rural churches during the great religious revivals that swept America in the early decades of the republic. Like this example, most were individual efforts fashioned from sheet metal by local smithies.
  • Dexter Horse, Attributed to Cushing & White. Estimate $6,000–8,000.
    Harness racing was America's first popular spectator sport, and champion racehorses the sports superstars of their day. Printmakers Currier & Ives sold vivid color lithographs of race winners to eager fans, and weathervane manufacturers, including A.L. Jewell and Cushing & White, followed their lead by offering three-dimensional sculptures of legendary trotters to top barns and stables.

    Dexter, who was born in 1858, dominated harness racing from his introduction in 1864 to his retirement in 1867, when he twice lowered the world speed record. He was a powerful horse with a picture-perfect gait and a dramatic and determined head-down style that thrilled crowds, all qualities that are well captured in this contemporary vane.
  • Goddess of Liberty, Attributed to Cushing & White. Estimate $30,000–60,000.
    The Goddess of Liberty, usually depicted holding the Stars and Stripes and wearing a Phrygian cap, became a popular symbol of American democracy and freedom during the Revolution and was depicted by a number of weathervane manufacturers and individual makers in the decades after the Civil War. A.L. Jewell of Waltham, who was the first to offer a Goddess vane, patented his design on September 12, 1865.
  • Soaring Bird on Arrow, Attributed to Albert Zahn. Estimate $8,000–12,000.
    Albert Zahn was a German-born dairy farmer who, after passing his farm to his son in 1924, built a poured-concrete retirement home in Bailey's Harbor, a small town on a peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. Inspired by the abundant birdlife around him, Zahn filled his home's inside, facade, and yard with fanciful carvings of them, along with a multitude of angels, animals, and other figures of all sizes, creating an environment that became known as Birds Park.
  • Salmon, American, Late 19th/Early 20th century. Estimate $2,500–3,500.
    The maker of this unique vane added gilded sheet metal scales to a carved wooden body to make his fish more realistic. It must have been dazzling when it was made, and its heavily weathered surface remains fascinating and beautiful today.
  • Horse and Sulky with Rider, American School, 19th century. Estimate $12,000–18,000.
    This fine horse and sulky with rider vane was undoubtedly intended to represent a champion trotter who would have been a household name in his own time, but the horse's identity and the vane's manufacturer can only be guessed at today's distance. Because harness racing was such a rage in the second half of the nineteenth century, every weathervane manufacturer offered several horse and sulky vane models, and they also freely borrowed designs from one another, making firm identification even more problematic.
  • Flying Horse, American School, 19th Century. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    As is the case with many early swell-bodied copper weathervanes manufactured in Massachusetts, examples of this rare and dramatic form have often been attributed to A.L. Jewell of Waltham. However, the eyes of Jewell's vane are concave, not convex like those on this piece, and the many broadsides and trade cards he published to advertise his products do not illustrate this form.This powerfully stylized horse's wind-blown repoussé mane and tail add to the wild careening forward motion of the vane's lean and flowing form.
  • Horse and Rider, J. Howard & Co.. Estimate $20,000—30,000.
    This vane was intended to depict a formally attired dressage rider and his mount; this intent is made clear in a few examples, with and without the rider, that present the horse rearing back on its hind legs in a classical dressage position known as levade. In this small example, the horse's repousse mane matches the dressy elegance of its rider's top hat and suit.
  • Holstein Cow, American School, 19th century. Estimate $10,000—15,000.
    This unique carved wooden vane depicts a Holstein dairy cow, the world's most productive milk producer and a favorite of farmers in the northeastern U.S. to this day. The maker was probably a dairy farmer who owned a herd of Holsteins, and the completely different black and white patterns he painted on either side of the vane suggest he may have been creating a portrait of a specific animal. The cow's thin tail is pewter, a malleable alloy of tin that was widely used to make tableware from the Bronze Age into the late nineteenth century. One wonders if the maker of this vane melted down a couple of the family's spoons to shape into his cow's tail.
  • Centaur, American School, 19th century. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    While this powerful form has often been attributed to A.L. Jewell of Waltham, Massachusetts, the centaur form he made and illustrated in a broadside is quite different and far less refined and muscular than this example. Centaurs were a race of Greek mythological creatures that combined the torso, head, and arms of a human with the lower body, legs, and tail of a horse. Most Greek images of centaurs do not include a bow and arrow, but Sagittarius, the centaur who represents the ninth sign of the astrological Zodiac, has always been depicted as an archer drawing an arrow in his bow.
  • Steeple Chase, William F. Tuckerman. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    This is one of only two known weathervanes stamped by Tuckerman. A closely related but unmarked Tuckerman weathervane is illustrated in Sotheby's The American Folk Art Collection of Frank and Karen Miele. January 28, 1984, lot 31. No records or advertisements associated with the Boston coppersmith William F. Tuckerman mention weathervanes, but the forms of his two known stamped vanes bear striking similarities to the work of A.L. Jewell, a younger man whom he probably knew and may have influenced.
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