A few pointers from the pros
Four local companies have a lot of experience with weathervanes
A weathervane can say a great deal about its owners. From displaying one’s love of the sea with a sailboat, a fondness for nature with a flower, or a little whimsy with a unicorn, these functional works of art offer a personalized focal point to any home, business, or other building they adorn.
Weathervanes, both grand and traditional, take outdoor décor to new heights, and while it’s easy to marvel at the artistry built into these sculptures, the craft of weathervane making is just as admirable. In this article, we look at four local companies whose craftsmen are skilled and experienced in the art of making weathervanes. Their unique creations are perfect for adding a little personality to homes, offices, and other outdoor structures.
“Keeping a balance is very important”
When it comes to weathervanes, anything seems possible for Cape Cod Cupola. In business since 1939, and holding patterns for more than 480 unique designs ranging from planes, cars, and flowers to fish, mermaids, and mythical creatures, it would appear there’s no style this North Dartmouth company cannot make. The weathervanes are available in five different sizes, generally ranging from one to 10 feet.
“We offer a big variety,” says Brian Chabot, the company’s manager and weathervane maker, “and we’re not at all limited to what we show or what we have patterns for. We’re always doing custom pieces.” One of the company’s largest commissioned works is a moose that stands 4’6” and measures six feet in length; mounted on a 10-foot arrow, the finished product is pretty sharp. Chabot has also spent up to 200 hours on an individual, full-bodied automobile design.
Like many things in life, the art of making weathervanes is a kind of balancing act. Chabot, who has been designing weathervanes for the company since 1977, says Cape Cod Cupola—which also makes finials and, of course, cupolas—strives to achieve a balance of creativity and functionality with all of its handcrafted copper pieces. “They still have to face into the wind when the wind blows,” Chabot explains. “That’s the most important thing: If the weathervane is not designed so it can turn in the wind, it’s not going to last very long, and the wind is going to beat it up. You want to try to keep the weight relatively even, front to back, but you definitely have to have more area on the back side that can catch the wind. Trying to keep a balance is very important.”
One of the company’s signature pieces is its Osterville Mermaid. “From her waist down, we will patina green the fish part and make that copper look old and antique,” Chabot says. “Her body and her arms will be clear sprayed so that they stay that nice, copper-tone color. And her hair can be gold leafed so that she is blond or can be left natural copper if they wanted to go brunette.”
Cape Cod Cupola is at 78 State Road in North Dartmouth.
For more information, call 508-994-2119, or visit capecodcupola.com.
“You’re only as good as your last piece”
Based in Vineyard Haven, Tuck & Holand Metal Sculptors makes weathervanes that are literally larger than life. From a 10-foot Nittany Lion that soars above Penn State University’s famous Beaver Stadium, to a pterodactyl holding actress Raquel Welch’s character aloft in the film One Million Years B.C., the company’s artisans put their own unique spin on weathervane making.
“I always try to go above and beyond because you’re only as good as your last piece,” says Anthony Holand, the company’s owner. Whether reflecting the specific traits of a client’s dog in an artistic likeness or designing a school-of-fish vane to articulate so it “swims” in the wind, Holand says the character an expert can add to a given piece makes all the difference. “Once each piece comes together it has that punch of life,” Holand says. “It’s not a stale, everyday weathervane.”
The company got its start in 1974 when Travis Tuck made his first weathervane, a Great White shark that was used as a prop atop Quint’s shack in Jaws. In the four decades since, the company has made hundreds of weathervanes, and for many years, Tuck, who passed away in 2002, was considered one of the specialized industry’s top practitioners.
Holand, who joined forces with Tuck in 1996, says each weathervane the company makes is completed entirely by hand using copper repousse, a metalwork technique that involves brazing together two pieces of copper. “There are few people that do it, especially do it by hand without any molds,” Holand says, “and very few people that do it well.”
The company has created other unique designs including a “Nobska” steamship, which is on display atop the Oak Bluffs Steamship terminal; and a “Mockingjay” piece commissioned by an agent of the book series The Hunger Games. “Each piece is unique unto itself,” Holand says. “There isn’t a pre-set formula. You never know what’s going to come through the door.”
Tuck & Holand Metal Sculptors is at 275 State Road in Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-693-3914, or visit tuckandholand.com.
“I get to use my blacksmith creativity”
In a quarter-century of crafting weathervanes, Robert S. Jordan of Orleans says the piece he considers his favorite is a 16-inch gull-wing Mercedes, which he fashioned from copper and stainless steel. “It was complicated,” Jordan recalls of the project, which he made for a builder to place atop a cupola on a client’s pool house. “I had to make a steel mandrel to get the basic shape of the body. And then I had to attach little detail pieces on the sides and make bumpers and headlights.”
Jordan, whose orders are all commissioned, receives requests for all sorts of sculptures. “I make anything,” he says. That includes a burly bison the artisan is currently working on which, when finished, will stand 22 inches tall and stretch 40 inches from end to end. It’s the largest weathervane he has ever made. “It’s unique,” Jordan says, “I’ve never seen a bison weathervane before.” In Native American folklore, bison are often associated with protection, or can symbolize strength or prosperity. Jordan says the customer who commissioned the piece is planning to install it on the roof of his new house for good luck.
When making these instruments, Jordan does not use molds or commercial products, but shapes the individual pieces by hand to create finished products that are truly one of a kind. A native of Chatham, Jordan has been working with metal for 45 years, and the techniques he has learned over the years have helped perfect his weathervane-making technique. “I get to use my blacksmith creativity to make them,” he says. “Each one is different, so it requires a lot of design and creativity to make it come out the way you want. It’s a challenge, but I enjoy it.”
For more information on the artisan, call 774-722-2875, or visit robertsjordan.com
“Whales, fish, and mermaids are popular”
Selecting a signature piece at The Cape Cod Weathervane Company is akin to picking out a new car. “There is so much to choose from,” says owner Russell Cazeault. “We’re kind of like a gallery.”
Located in Orleans, the company offers a wide range of high-quality weathervanes, from motorcycles and dragon designs, to more traditional horses and roosters. “Being on the Cape, we do a lot of sea life,” Cazeault says. “Whales, fish, and mermaids are very popular. We ship nationwide, too, so in different areas of the country the non-nautical stuff is popular, too.”
While the company does not make the weathervanes, Cazeault says the individual products are unique in that they are all made of copper. “I don’t think there are a lot of companies that have the concentrated product mix that we have,” he says. To Cazeault, who also owns Cazeault Roofing, what’s so great about copper is that the metal doesn’t rust—and it has a personality. “It starts off bright and shiny, weathers to a nice dull brown, and then eventually, over time, develops that aged, rich green patina,” Cazeault says. “It’s just like people: it evolves.”
In addition to offering fun designs, Cazeault says weathervanes can be used for a variety of purposes. “People will put them in the garden,” he says. “I’ve seen them inside, mounted on the wall as a decoration.” He has even seen them displayed on a fireplace mantel. “It creates a nice focal point inside of the house.”
The Cape Cod Weathervane Company is at 22 Giddiah Hill Road in Orleans. For more information, call 1-800-460-1477, or visit capecodweathervanecompany.com.
A brief history of the weathervane
“The weathervane is not something that’s needed anymore,” says Brian Chabot of Cape Cod Cupola. “It’s only something that’s wanted.” And while nowadays people may be more likely to turn to their phones to get a grip on the weather, there was a time when the weathervane was more valued as a working tool.
According to tuckandholand.com, the earliest recorded mention of a weathervane was one depicting the Greek god Triton, and built in Athens in 48 B.C. Weathervanes depicting the gods were popular among wealthy landowners in Greece and pre-Christian Rome. Viking ships, traveling during the ninth century, also used bronze weathervanes as a tool for navigation, their designs often depicting animals or creatures from Norse fables.
The weathervane has quite the history in the United States as well. In the U.S., the oldest weathervane—a weathercock design brought across the Atlantic from Holand—dates back to 1656. North America’s first documented weathervane maker, Deacon Shem Drowne, made the famous grasshopper weathervane that has sat atop Faneuil Hall in Boston since 1742. President George Washington is said to have been a fan of the weather instrument and commissioned Philadelphia artist Joseph Rakestraw to create a “Dove of Peace” for his estate at Mount Vernon. Completed in 1787, the piece commemorated the end of the Revolutionary War.
During the 1800s, American weathervane manufacturers, including the prominent J.W. Fiske of New York City, began mass-producing weathervanes, from the patriotic Goddess of Liberty and the Federal Eagle to famous racing horses like Black Hawk.
Fun fact: The city of Montague, Michigan claims to be home to the world’s largest weathervane, a functioning schooner design that stands 48 feet tall with an arrow 26 feet long! The towering sculpture is located in Montague’s downtown Ellenwood Park and commemorates the sailors of the Great Lakes who explored the area in the 1800s.
Haley Cote is the staff writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.
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