Saturday, 24 January 2009

You're So Vane!

Image Credit

They are everywhere around us, but sometimes we don't take the time to look up and see them! Here we present the slightly bizarre world of the weather vane. Whether or not those responsible for them will put their hands in the air and own up is anyone's guess. What is obvious, however, is that there is certainly truth in the old saying - vanity, vanity, all is vanity!

People are often labeled as obsessive or compulsive or both. Many, when they hit up something that takes their fancy will cling to it for dear life. Some people collect china dolls of Princess Diana. Others will gather a million cats around them and reduce their house to a giant litter tray. At least the owner of this rather plain erection in Cuddington, near Thame, England, has more than an ounce of originality when embarking on their collection.

The first collection, although a vast array, erred towards the traditional vane. You don’t have to go far these days, however, to get a thoroughly modern take on an ancient form of functional art. This very much larger than life fish, swimming majestically through the air in Hood River, Oregon, delivers a new take on the vane both majestic and not a little scary.

If you were asked to draw a weather vane, your piece would probably include the four cardinal directions, signified by their first letters at ninety degree angles to each other. On top there would probably be a hen or maybe a rooster. Historically, though, weather vanes have often reflected the local industry of their site. Here, in Charlestown, this somewhat bizarre impaled milking cow reflects the dairy produce produced locally. Udderly Weird.

That is quite fair enough, you might say. Fish at fisheries, cows at dairies and so the world turns. However, one balancing bovine can indicate something pretty different from another. Quite what the local industry in the part of Dallas, Texas where this creation rests may be is anyone’s guess. Or perhaps not. Over to your dirty mind in three, two, one.

Still, there is a lot to be said about tradition, even when given the gilt edge gleam of the twentieth century. The golden lobster weathervane at Boston Harbor sits proudly atop the James Hook Lobster Company. Clicking its pincers at passing planes and birds, it still proudly denotes an industry cherished in the area.

Pysanka! Bless you! Actually, this enormous, round, decorated thingy is in fact the world’s largest Pysanka. For those of you without a basic knowledge of Ukrainian, that’s an Easter Egg from the aforementioned country. Having said that, this one is located in Alberta, Canada and as well as being ‘decus’ it is also ‘tutamen’. In other words it has a function. Knowing what this article is about, we will leave you to guess as to what its mysterious purpose is! Other than, that is, to make people point, gawp and say ‘Look at that huge Easter egg! Awesome!’

You must cross the border to see the world’s largest weather vane. Welcome to Whitehorse Airport in the Yukon has this outrageous example of a vane of brobdingnabian proportions. And yes, it does move with the wind. Ever so slowly. Although not an immediate indicator of a high wind, at least one DC-3 is assured of a home at an airport for the foreseeable future.

From one flight of fancy to another. If your tastes are more Lilliputian, then you won’t feel left out with these, much smaller examples in the vane game. Over to the left, out of picture, is a dam they are just about to bust. Hardly likely, particularly in their home ground of Yosemite! They provide a great big prod to the imagination, though!

Returning to connections to the sea, can you guess upon which type of structure this wonderful product of the school of twentieth century art cum kitsch sits atop? It is none other than the New York Aquarium at Coney Island. A thing of marvel, how the whole culture of a city can be encapsulated in a single weather vane!

It may be strange for lobsters to chase planes, but what is so unusual about dogs chasing birds? Not a great deal, unless they are rendered from metal and hover precariously forty feet above the ground. From the looks of the Dalmatian at the end, one hundred and one is about to become one hundred.

What European country is overly fond of its beer and regularly ‘invades’ other countries to make sure they know it during the summer? After responding with ‘every country in Europe’ please rethink and be a little more National Lampoon. Yes, it’s the Brits and this anthropomorphized toad is telling of another national obsession. No, not that, it’s the fondness the British have for animals of course! Dartmoor, well known for its American Werewolves, is where you can find this particular Mister, without Ratty and Moley for company perhaps but still enjoying life (and beer!) to the full.

From the natural home of inebriety to that of subtlety. They say that everything is bigger in America and so must be the wind. A little west of Carmen in Oklahoma, someone had the bright idea for this early warning tornado system. It should perhaps be called a weather vane-r. Or even vane-st. If this boy moves, head for the cellar!

Trust the Finns to get all minimal on us! This ever so slightly surreal attempt at the vane can be found in Helsinki. It has some of the usual accoutrements of the genre (if it can be so called) but lacks the usual directive pointers, having only four identical white ships to guide the would-be forecaster. They would, necessarily, try in vain to discover the way the wind is blowing! And yes. That particular play on words just had to be used. You were waiting for it, come on!

Often the traditional and the modern can come together in a spectacularly successful fashion, as in this vane from windswept Cumbria in the UK. This art deco re-imagination of the conventional elements of the vane does not go against the time honored ‘must haves’ of the form. Just wonderful!

Oh and pigs might fly? After any pseudo arty ramblings, something has to bring us down to earth. Oinking skyward, this flying pig shows how British humor can be subtle and, well, not all at the same time. The denizens of Derby, however, need beware. This porcine wonder has a somewhat vampiric look to him! It would be fantastic if below this vane was a pub called something like ‘The Slaughter’d Lamb’.

Straight from pigs to beef. Most people believe that a certain fast food restaurant (cough) opened in the nineteen fifties. Here is absolute proof, from the Appalachians, that the firm was opened many years before. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite get their marketing right first time around and after due consideration decided on a logo more or less at eye level. They also thought later that a color change might be appropriate. Please note, if you want a global brand, this is one lesson you should learn. Use color.

In North Carolina, a local arboretum hides in its chimney tops some beautiful vanes. Is it a leaf, a flower or is it even a shooting star? With so much art, some of the pleasure is in deciding for yourself!

Reminiscent of a flight to Oz this modern day vane fulfils its time-honored purpose with a twist of the New World Gallic. Almost guaranteed to raise a smile on the face of the average Quebecois it’s a subtle piece of modern architecture serving a conventional purpose. Is there any need to dispute which is the more important?

Which way does this bird fly in winter? This uber modern vane brings us completely up to date with established functionality sharing pride of place with innovative design. If you didn’t study Latin at school and are still wondering what the phrase ‘Decus et Tutamen’ means, it is this: ‘an ornament and a safeguard’. What better way to describe the above vane?

Pioneer Square in Portland, Oregon, must have the most beautiful modern weather vane on the planet. A new city by some standards, it is unashamedly proud of the fact and that is reflected in this stunning chrome colored construction.

In a similar vein, the juxtaposition of the old and new can send a delighted shiver down many a neck. When the vane itself is not thoroughly modern, the evolving environment around it can be a ready made history lesson for the eyes.


Glynis said...

Great article! Ahhh the memories of the drunk British Toad, I have kissed a few LOL
There are some crazies out there!

Jon said...

great collection of vanes!! you asked if anyone would claim, er, credit... while working for the design department of the Wildlife Conservation Society (which runs the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium and the three City Zoos) i sketched the design for the weather vane at the Aquarium... it still gives me pleasure every time i look at it