This page is dedicated to the gold leaf process used in the creation of our weathervanes. Gold is the most precious and valuable of metals. It is used by the wealthy, the powerful, and the spiritual alike. It has become increasingly important throughout history to ordinary people as well. Today gold is used for electrical connections in computers, given as gifts, eaten as food, used for dentistry, woven into fabrics, and it embellishes everything from books and furniture, to automobile hood ornaments. Its value lies not only in its beauty but also in its rarity and ability to withstand corrosion and tarnish. Almost every human being is fascinated and lured by the glitter of gold!
This dense, soft metal can be beaten paper thin, so that it can conform to almost any shape creating the illusion of solid gold. This use of “gold leaf” , called gilding, dates back to 2000 BC in the Andes of southern Peru, and further back 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.
Gilding a weathervane with this tissue-thin leaf is magical. It creates a warmth and luster that is in-achievable with other materials. It adds distinction to a figure that may otherwise be overlooked. It transforms the ordinary weathervane into the remarkable.
One hundred years ago, when New England companies were producing hundreds of weathervanes from cast iron molds, 99% 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.
Shown above are two of my handcrafted weathervanes. In the finest tradition of my trade I have gilt my Angel Gabriel weathervane, a hollow copper figure, with 23-1/2 karat gold leaf over the entire surface. My Gallo de’ Elegancia weathervane is an excellent example of my unique style. I 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. Because of its properties, gold remains bright outdoors for at least 30 years. I offer the option of a gilded finish with most of my weathervanes. I also restore weathervanes requiring a fresh coat of leaf.
Gilding is an art unto itself. 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 am a member of the Society of Gilders.
Gold leaf is manufactured in a wide range of colors and karats. Leaf composed of 100% gold is rated 24 karat. To provide a variety of colors, copper and silver is mixed with gold. Adding these metals slightly lowers the karat value of the leaf but increases its strength and changes its color. When copper is added gold assumes a warmer tone. When silver is added, gold becomes pale. The amount of copper or silver in 23 Karat [or better] gold is so low that it will not hinder its integrity or ability to last outdoors for 30 years or more.
Each manufacturer produces its leaf with a different mix of metals creating different shades as well as different thickness’. For my weathervanes I consistently use 23 karat or better deep double gold from Germany or Italy. Though, not often available, I prefer to use Russian gold leaf. I feel It is the warmest, richest, and thickest leaf I have used. To my knowledge, I am a pioneer in using Palladium to accent weathervanes. Palladium is a silver-colored metal that does not tarnish as silver does. It allows me to chrome the bumpers on a car weathervane or ‘whiten’ the spots on a loon figure.
Go to Making Weathervanes Page
Weathervanes by David Ferro – Bio and Portfolio
If you would like to learn how to make your own weathervanes, David offers one class each year.
Please click here to learn more in our Weathervanes Workshop area of the site.
For more information on weathervanes or gold leaf and gilding visit your local library or the following sites: