Recent blustery conditions in our fair city—remember, Chicago’s moniker is the “Windy City”—has caused me to reflect on the weathervanes in the American Folk Art gallery. Weathervanes have been part of the American landscape for many years; originally, they were introduced by English colonial settlers as an instrument to reveal wind direction, or as decoration for a rooftop. But they were also coveted by American folk art collectors of the early 20th century because of their visual impact as silhouettes, appealing to collectors’ and artists’ modern aesthetic.
A wonderful newly acquired weathervane (top image, left side) by Henry Driehaus (1860-1943, in his studio immediately above) from this time period was recently installed in the Grainger Gallery of American Folk Art at the museum. Above four silhouetted fish bearing the four cardinal points, Driehaus crafted a hunting dog obediently waiting behind his master and a Native American wielding a bow and arrow, with the exaggerated spikes of his headdress complementing the form of his pants and the bush below him. Born in the United States to Prussian immigrants, rural blacksmith Henry Driehaus trained as a smith in the European cities of Essen, Basel, and Zurich and learned ornamental ironwork in a monastery before returning to Pennsylvania in 1880. A few years later he opened a permanent shop in Hendricks Station, Frederick Township, where he executed multifaceted ironwork—from shoeing and ironing wagons to ornamental ironwork (such as andirons, coat hooks and hinges). This hand-wrought weathervane, which is actually signed by the blacksmith, illustrates Driehaus’s predilection for and specialization in decorative ironwork.
Complimenting the weathervanes in the gallery is a whirligig (top image, right side) made by Lithuanian immigrant Frank Memkus (1884-1965). Whirligigs have been made in America since at least the early 19th century. Unlike weathervanes, which functioned as indicators of wind direction, whirligigs were mainly intended for fun and ornamentation, and therefore, tend to be more personally decorated. Naturalized as an American citizen on May 24, 1945, Memkus could have made the whirligig as a commemorative gesture toward his newly adopted country. As a new American, he might have been inspired by his recent naturalization, in combination with the Allied victory in Europe, to construct this overtly patriotic object. It employs the colors red, white, and blue to highlight the nation’s flag, and atop it stands a saluting seaman surrounded by airplane propellers, which, along with the flags, whirl and flutter in the wind.
These objects (and so many others) may be viewed in the Grainger Gallery of American Folk Art! But we apologize in advance for the lack of wind.
—Monica Obniski, Assistant Curator of American Art
Image Credit: Image courtesy of Guy Reinert files, Winterthur Library
1 hour 32 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—In 1963 Melvin Edwards began Lynch Fragments, a series of welded steel assemblages made in response to the tumultuous social climate of the Civil Rights movement. The title of the series evokes the horrifying images of racist mob violence, yet Edwards’s works distill the subject into a powerful sculptural language, fusing modernist abstraction with a sense of personal and collective history.
Afrophoenix No. 1—one of the earliest objects from the series—exemplifies how the artist physically transformed found objects and brought them together in poetically suggestive, tension-filled compositions. Here the formal arrangement of steel elements evokes an equestrian bridle and bit. Chains, hammers, nails, spikes, and screws magnify the sculpture’s associative power, recalling implements of labor and torture. At the same the title references the mythological phoenix—alluding to death, rebirth, and transformation.
See Afrophoenix No. 1 (1963) by Melvin Edwards in Gallery 289D.
5 hours 57 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago CLOSING SOON—Modern Velvet: A Sense of Luxury in the Age of Industry
With their plush, inviting, and varied textures, the velvets featured in this exhibition showcase the diversity of modern velvet as well as the effects of industry on its production. As industrial innovations at the turn of the 19th century allowed for faster production and encouraged the use of less costly materials, designers and manufacturers of velvet sought to maintain its association with wealth, luxury, and splendor.
Learn how this elegant fabric has inspired designers for centuries, with a wide range of examples from the 19th century to present day—closing March 19.
16 hours 57 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago Just like the museum's collection comes from artists around the world, so does the Museum Shop’s assortment of products. We source exclusive products from artisans that are inspired by the cultures, mediums, and techniques represented in our museum collection. View our assortment of unique items from India.