Gold is a dense, soft metal that can be beaten paper thin so that it can wrap almost any shape creating the illusion of solid gold and has the incredible ability to withstand corrosion and tarnish discoloration. Gold leafing a weathervane with this tissue-thin leaf is magical. It creates a warmth and luster that is in-achievable with other materials. It transforms the ordinary weathervane into a distinctive, remarkable object that glitters in the sun. Because of its properties, gold not only protects the copper but remains bright outdoors for up to 50 years.
The application of gold leaf, called gilding, dates back to 2000 BC to the ancient Egyptians who beat gold between flat stones and used it to gild statues, mummy masks, coffins, altars, and other ceremonial items. Later, gilding was used extensively in the Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo periods to adorn items such as tables and picture frames. There have been few changes in the process of beating gold over the last four hundred years. Although it is still beaten by hand, a machine was invented in the 1920’s that faithfully reproduces the action of a hand-wielded hammer. A leaf of gold measures from 2″-3″ square and may be as thin as 0.0001 mm.
One hundred years ago, when New England companies were producing hundreds of weathervanes from cast iron molds, most of those vanes were gilt with gold leaf. It was an integral part of the finished product. A verdigris weathervane was seen then, as we would see a rusted automobile today. However, it is a contemporary trend to leave the copper bare and allow it to verdigris; which is now considered to have a classic appeal.
In the finest tradition of my trade I gild weathervanes whenever requested using the finest 23 karat gold leaf. I offer the option of a gilded finish with most of my weathervanes and restore weathervanes requiring a fresh coat of leaf. I also use gold leaf in small amounts to accent a figure’s natural features. This technique provides highlights without the cost of fully gilding a piece.
Gilding is an art unto itself. It is an exacting and time consuming one. An artists confidence begins with using the finest tools and materials. He practices patience and methodology for the best possible results. My gilding skills are the result of a short apprenticeship with the well known Cape Cod woodcarver, Mr. Paul White, and a course in gilding from the Rhode Island School of Design with John Philibert of the Smithsonian. I have been gilding since 1995 and I am member of the Society of Gilders.
- To see some weathervanes being built, visit the Blog.
- Weathervane crafting techniques are as varied as their subjects. This page describes some of my personal techniques. For more information on other techniques and styles, please read the article “Selecting A Weathervane“.
- Visit the Finishes page for more information on the variety and their details.
- Bio and Portfolio – Weathervanes by David Ferro
- If you would like to learn how to gold leaf I offer a Gilding Weathervanes Workshop.
- Discover more about Weathervanes in the Reading List.
- For more information visit your local library.