I've done quite a few posts about weathervanes, and have even shown a great carved weathervane pattern of a bull that gives some insight into how these iconic piece of folk art were made. Recently, while browsing through our collections facility, I came across two other objects that add more to the story.
Many weathervanes began with a hand carving, like the bull. From this carving the maker would create a plaster or ceramic mold, which would in turn be used to make a castiron figure resembling the original carving. Copper sheets would be hammered over the iron and soldered together to make the final, hollow-bodied and lightweight weathervane. Weathervane manufacturers held onto their molds as long as they were producing the vanes, but all too often these pieces of their history would be discarded when the company went out of business. Most weathervane manufactories did not survive the great Depression of the 1930s, and so the tools of the trade are rare.
We are lucky to have the carved bull, of course, but the other pieces I found represent the second step in the process. These are two sides of a ceramic mold for a small cow weathervane, sold to the Fenimore Art Museum in 1956 by Adele Earnest and Cordelia Hamilton of the Stony Point Antiques Gallery in Stony Point New York. Earnest and Hamilton also sold us the bull, showing how adept they were at finding the exceptional pieces of folk art that were still floating around in estates and shops at that time.
We don't know where these molds came from, unfortunately, but they are remarkable survivals nonetheless. They are about 17" wide and 10" tall, and one of them is marked "14 COW," which indicates the number and subject of the pattern that this company offered. I would guess that they date to the late 19th century.
Finding these pieces was another reminder that a really good weathervane exhibition, including contextual material like these, would be an eye-opener for many people. That is something that is increasingly on my radar screen for the coming years.