Saturday, September 25, 2010

Nantucket Angel

Our little Angel weathervane is really a transcendent piece. It’s so unassuming, yet so emblematic of the spirit of folk art that it has taken on a life of its own as a symbol. Over the years it has been our logo as well as an image heralding any number of Americana sales and shops from New England to California. Not bad for a one-inch-thick painted board.

Uncommon luck and persistence, as usual, brought this angel to us. In fact, luck must have followed folk art collector Jean Lipman around where she went in the 1930s and 1940s. She couldn’t open a door, lift up a cover, or look up in the sky without finding some lost and lonely piece that was destined to become a national icon. Our Angel was no exception.

In 1946 Mrs. Lipman visited the island of Nantucket, some thirty miles off the coast of Massachusetts. When she disembarked she was likely already within eyesight of yet another great find. Perched above the peak of one end of a boathouse on Old North Wharf, a block or so from where contemporary visitors disembark for the island, sat our Angel. She overlooked the harbor and could be seen from any number of directions. Her prominence is significant to me in that she must have been seen by countless thousands of people before Jean Lipman recognized what a masterpiece she was and rescued her for posterity.

The vast majority of weathervanes have no history. Those that do are only very rarely photographed in their original locations, making such data priceless. In the case of our Angel, there are TWO period photographs that show her atop the Old North Wharf Boathouse. One is by Samuel Chamberlain (above), and was published in his 1939 photograph book, Nantucket. Our Angel is very hard to see in this photo; just barely visible off to the far right.

Fortunately, another photographer working at about the same time, Louis Davidson, took an image of the boathouses from closer up and at a different angle. This image is breathtaking in its clarity and unquestionable verification of our weathervane’s original location. The photograph even allowed us to identify the specific boathouse on which she rests. It was called “Independence,” and was owned by the Everett family from Hingham, Massachusetts.

The information is as helpful as it is rare, of course. But ultimately it is, for me, the image of our Angel in its natural habitat – the coastal landscape of New England – that says the most about her unknown artist’s masterful embellishment of a truly picturesque harbor.

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