Peacock weather vane

about 1860–75


Object Place: Eastern United States

Dimensions

Overall: 50.2 x 85.7 cm (19 3/4 x 33 3/4 in.)

Accession Number

54.1089

Medium or Technique

Copper; painted gold; iron rod

On View

Joyce and Edward Linde Gallery (Gallery 237)

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Sculpture

Perched delicately on a round ball, this striking peacock weather vane formed a strong sculptural silhouette against the sky. Its head, featuring a pierced eye and pointed beak, is topped by a stylized tripartite comb. The long curving neck descends gracefully to the body, where the thin legs and talons grasp the ball support. The flat, ribbed tail provides a wide expanse of metal that would effectively catch the wind, and the hollow body, made of molded copper sheets soldered together, is painted gold to protect the vane from the elements. Although such details would hardly have been visible from ground level, the artisan delicately applied paint to the body and the tail in imitation of feathers. The iron rod originally would have also supported iron letters indicating the cardinal points of north, south, east, and west.

In a world in which changes in wind speed and direction were often the best indicators of a coming storm, weather vanes served a useful as well as ornamental purpose. They were a common sight in the early United States, mounted atop churches, civic buildings, and domestic residences. Although they could be fashioned in almost any form, many weather vanes depicted creatures of the natural world, including codfish, horses, goats, sheep, cows, and grasshoppers. The maker of this weather vane is not known, but the influential New York dealer of folk and modern art Edith Halpert found it and two related examples in Vermont sometime between 1929 and 1953.

This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html

Provenance

Found in the "vicinity of Vermont" by the New York folk art dealer Edith Halpert of The Downtown Gallery between 1929 and 1953; purchased and given to the Museum by Maxim Karolik in 1954.

Credit Line

Gift of Maxim Karolik