On my recent visit to Minneapolis to attend the opening of our own Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, I had the pleasure of spending several hours in the Institute enjoying their many galleries of artworks from around the world. As you read in my last post, the folk art of Japan was a pleasant surprise, but I also encountered an unexpected treasure trove of American folk art.
The MIA is Byzantine; not in its organization but in the layout of its galleries. i loved wandering through the many nooks and crannies of the place, turning corners and finding things that were not mentioned on the visitor guide. As I walked down one long corridor, looking for the cafe, I came across a multi-story atrium (above) that yielded a pleasant and familiar sight. On the top floor, just above the mezzanine level with the cafe, was a hallway gallery of 19th-century American weathervanes.
I of course took a closer look. The nearly two dozen vanes were all the gift of a single couple, John and Elizabeth Driscoll of Minneapolis. Their taste was exquisite and far-reaching. The collection included a terrific cast iron vane of a rooster (above) made by the Rochester Iron Works of Rochester, New Hampshire, very similar to one in the Fenimore Art Museum collection.
In fact, the Driscolls seem to have had a thing for roosters; there were a variety of them in every style and medium possible. My favorite was one (above) that was found on a barn in Red Hook, New York in the 1970s and dates to about 1890. It’s fantastic; not realistic at all but a fun, patterned version of the barnyard fowl. And the paint surface is as good as any weathervane I’ve seen. The vane is boldly striped in red and yellow, which accentuates the curved pattern of the tail feathers.
I also noticed a large Angel Gabriel, which reminded me of our little angel from Nantucket. This one is about five times larger than ours, and it seemed very different in form than the Gabriel vanes I’ve seen over the years. According to the label, it was made for cupola of the Winslow House Hotel in Minneapolis in about 1857. The hotel was a favorite resort for tourists coming to see St. Anthony Falls. Recent scholarship on this vane has apparently yielded some exciting new information about its history, and may explain its appearance.
According to the label, the Gabriel weathervane may have been made in France and displayed at the 1853 World’s Exposition in New York, popularly known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition. It was housed in a grand structure made of glass and resembling a huge greenhouse (above). The label did not indicate where the curators came upon this information, but if it is true this is the documented weathervane I am aware of with such a provenance. And it isn’t common to have French vanes in American collections.
But if you can discover Japanese folk art in Minnesota, why not an Angel from France?