Silhouette, swelled-body, and full-body styles assume their form through various manufacturing techniques, including casting, machine pressing, mold crafting, and freehand sculpting. Although often similar in appearance, they differ greatly in quality and price.
Bronze, zinc, and even iron have historically been used to cast weathervanes. Today, figures are mainly cast from aluminum—a much lighter material. The process starts with a model carved of wood or plastic. The model is embedded in very fine sand, creating an impression. It is then removed and the cavity is filled with molten metal. The cooled casting is cleaned, finished, and painted. This method offers a high degree of detail. Cast aluminum weathervanes are commonly the least expensive and short-lived.
Although the quality of American hand-sculpted pieces is greatly superior, the machine-pressed weathervanes being imported from China, Taiwan, and India are very affordable. They are manufactured by placing a thin sheet of copper in a machine, which uses molds in the shape of a figure’s design to stamp out its parts. These parts, resembling Jell-O molds, are electrically soldered together to complete the figure. Be aware that their life span is limited due to poorly designed bearing mechanisms and posts. They are available either polished or with a pseudo-verdigris finish, are imported in huge quantities by companies like Good Directions, and are available almost everywhere weathervanes are sold. Some of the figures are sheet steel made to look like old copper and they rust out in the first year or two of use. There are many figures available, however, custom designs are not possible. Also, be cautious as these weathervanes are often marketed as hand-made and hand-crafted. Because hands touch them during their creation doesn’t make them superior. There is a significant difference between machine-manufactured ‘hand-made’ pieces and skillfully hand-sculpted pieces. Buyer Beware!
Contemporary mold-crafted weathervanes are moderately priced and of great value. They are produced by making cast-iron molds from carved wooden figures. Copper sheets are carefully hand-hammered into these molds to produce the parts, which are trimmed and soldered together to form an accurate copy of the carving. The copper parts display the texture of the molds. The selection of figures is limited to the molds available. This method was used extensively during the late-19th century, and the antique figures are now considered fine examples of American folk art and are highly collectible, often commanding thousands of dollars at antique shops and auctions.
Freehand sculpting without the use of molds or machines is a time-honored skill displaying unequaled attention to quality and detail. Almost anything can be immortalized in weathervane form using this technique. Most freehand artists create their works in small studios, barns, and shops. Armed with vision and quality materials, the parts are meticulously fashioned. Once complete, they are assembled and the vision takes form. Among the finest weathervanes created in the world today, the freehand process ensures the quality and individuality of these pieces. Most of them increase in value with age and many become family heirlooms. They are sold through fine galleries, museums, specialty catalogs, and the artists’ websites. The Artist’s signature and date of creation are commonly engraved on the figure as a sign of authenticity. These weathervanes are supplied with stainless-steel posts and include brass directionals and a set of copper balls. Most artists will stand behind their work for life. Such high-quality, unique artistic creations as these have always required the highest prices in the market but are well worth the investment.
© 1997 David Ferro