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Weather vanes and wind toys join museum display

Sunday, June 2, 2002

PEORIA, Ill. -- Not many exhibits are likely to give more pleasure than "Whirligigs and Weathervanes," which opened this spring in the Lakeview Museum's Folk Art Gallery here and continues through Sept. 2.

On display are nearly 40 examples of the early weather forecasters and wind-powered toys -- many cleverly crafted, many whimsical and some remarkably handsome.

For example, there is the Moby Dick whirligig by Gary Foster of Charleston, with its Captain Ahab, harpoon in hand, on the white whale's back.

Foster has loaned a number of his creations from the 1980s and 1990s: representations in wood of Uncle Sam, a coastal lighthouse, a swimmer battling wind and waves, and a wooden and tin windmill.

Merle Glick, a collector and lecturer on folk art, has loaned many pieces from his collection, including traditional weather vanes and lightning rods that once topped the buildings at his parents' farm.

One of the most graceful weather vanes in the exhibit is a high-stepping horse on a vane attached to a lightning rod with a glass ball. The ball would shatter if lightning hit the metal pole.

Buildings on a farm often were identified by animal figures, Glick said. A cow might be on top of a dairy building, or a pig in pressed tin might ornament a hog shed.

Some of the earliest items in the exhibit are weather vane arrows dating from around 1875 and made of iron and colored glass panels. They are on loan from Glick and his wife, Barbara.

By far the most spectacular weather vane figure in the exhibit is the eagle that originally flew atop the three-story Colony Hotel built in the 1950s at the Swedish Bishop Hill colony.

Pretty and practical

Fashioned of tin, it is hollow, with a wingspan of about 2 1/2 feet. It is estimated to date from around 1860 and is on loan from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's Bishop Hill Historic Site. When not on loan, the eagle is housed at the Bishop Hill museum. A replica is atop the restored hotel building.

Some pieces in the exhibit are pure whimsy, such as the "Kitty Hawk" whirligig made by Trudy Close of Kilbourne. It features a "kitty" and a "hawk" riding aboard an old-fashioned airplane.

Perry Wilcoxen, a well-known duck decoy maker, has loaned the 1925 weather vane from his garage in Liverpool -- a realistic-looking fish weather vane mounted on a lightning rod.

An imposing 2-foot-tall rooster in sheet metal is said to be the work of a Mason City artist, probably in the early 20th century.

Glick said roosters have been weather vane figures since earliest times, often on churches. He says they probably refer to the biblical account of Peter denying Jesus three times.


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