In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American farmers commonly installed decorative weathervanes on the rooftops of their houses and barns. Long before the advent of modern meteorology, these whimsical devices alerted their owners to changes in wind direction—valuable information that allowed those who made their living from the land to make predictions about the weather. Weathervanes also advertised the types of farm animals their owners kept. Depictions of poultry, sheep, plow horses, dairy cows, bulls, and steers were all common forms for weathervanes during this period.
Commercial workshops or small factories produced most American weathervanes, but some were made by hand by artisans following well-established folk-art traditions. Whereas commercially produced weathervanes sported elaborate modeled and gilded surfaces designed to catch the sun, the chief goal for factory-made and handmade weathervanes was the presentation of a striking silhouette that would not only catch the wind but also be recognizable at a distance. This exhibition of outstanding weathervanes from a private New England collection affords us the opportunity to appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty of these charming objects while offering us glimpses of what life was like on a New England farm more than a century ago.