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Landis Valley weathervane: At the crossroads of promotion and folk art

April 26, 2016

Filed under Collections, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Treasures

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Landis Valley weathervane

Weathervanes are often viewed as pieces of folk art. This 19th-century weathervane, found in Petersburg, Pa., promoted the blacksmith shop owned by W. Gerfin, whose name appears at the bottom.

Henry Landis (1865-1955) of Landis Valley, Lancaster County, believed that weathervanes were significant pieces of folk art that personified Pennsylvania German heritage. He collected, researched and studied these artifacts, many of which were often crafted to resemble various figures such as cows and horses, fish and roosters. Landis took notes on the weathervanes, or wetterhahn , while at the same time researching the lives of those who created these works of art. These artists, many of them blacksmiths and tinsmiths, were not academically trained, but instead were self-taught, producing working pieces that also served as sculptures that adorned roofs.

This 19th-century weathervane, found in Petersburg, Pa., served more than one purpose. Initially, it promoted the blacksmith shop owned by W. Gerfin, whose name appears at the bottom. The craftsman is shown at his anvil with a raised hammer in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other. Next to the blacksmith is a horse with an ampersand on its back. The blacksmith is standing on a horseshoe, within which are the letters “ER.” The weathervane reads: “W. Gerfin Blacksmith and Horseshoe-er.”

In addition to serving as an advertising sign, this piece was also designed as a weathervane. Two forged metal rings, attached to the blacksmith’s back, hold a vertical rod, a design element that allows the weathervane to turn with the direction of the wind. The sign’s distinct movement would show the work of W. Gerfin, who it is believed created the weathervane/sign for himself.

Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum currently has on exhibit a collection of weathervanes. The exhibit, Weathervanes: Three Centuries of a Pennsylvania Folk Art Tradition, will be on display throughout the year, closing on Dec. 31, 2016. More than 50 artifacts are featured in this exhibit, including the W. Gerfin weathervane/sign. The earliest artifact on display dates to 1699. Many of the weathervanes in the exhibit come from collections held by Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, including those of Landis Valley, Ephrata Cloister and The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

This edition of Pennsylvania Treasures was written by Jennifer Royer, museum curator at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission houses artifacts hailing from all eras of the commonwealth’s past. These objects represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. PHMC curators continue to research the stories behind many of these rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.