Sunday, December 26, 2010

James Lombard: Maine Weathervanes

Not all late 19th-century weathervanes are extravagant, mass-produced ornaments for prosperous farmsteads. Although the norm at the time was for these elaborate vanes to be produced and marketed by large firms in Boston or New York, there is one humble maker who has become a famous counterpart to our understanding of this art form.

He is James Lombard, a farmer from central Maine who was born in 1865 and at some point in his young life produced weathervanes for his community of Bridgton and as far away as Wells, Maine. Lombard worked with simple planks of pine, which he sawed and chiseled into fantastic shapes for his vanes. We have three in the Fenimore Art Museum collection, each about eighteen inches tall, and they all show Lombard’s talent in creating the lively silhouettes of the chickens that were the subjects of the pieces. Look how he made the cutout areas form their own designs, and how proudly these birds show off their plumage.

We’re very lucky to have the Lombard vanes we have. The one painted white (just above) was found on a hen house in Wells, Maine, fully sixty miles to the south of Lombard’s home in Bridgton. This distance may indicate that he traveled to peddle these vanes in his youth.

The weathervane at the top of this post, however, is really special. You can tell that it was made with more care than the other one, and is a more successful composition. It’s coat of white paint is much older, suggesting that it was treasured as a relic rather than “restored.” Where was this one found? The barn of the Lombard Homestead itself in Bridgton. This was the vane that Lombard himself saw every day as he worked his farm until he passed away in 1920. 

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