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St. Tammany Weathervane
Artist unidentified

Location: Possibly Massachusetts or New York, United States

Date: c. 1890

Materials: Paint on molded copper

Dimensions: 102 1/2 × 103 × 12"

Credit: Museum purchase

Accession Number: 1963.2.1

Photo credit: John Parnell

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Description

Until the early 1960s, this impressive weathervane dominated the small business district of the rural Delaware County hamlet of East Branch, New York. It stood at the very top of a turret on the roof of a large building, where it probably had been mounted about 1890. The building housed the local post office, a general store, and a lodge, or “tribe,” of the Improved Order of Red Men, a fraternal organization that based its ceremonial regalia and rituals on Indian lore and legend. The weathervane served as the symbol of the lodge.

The Improved Order of Red Men was founded in Baltimore in 1834, although it claims descent from several earlier groups. Each lodge of the Order had a designated tribal name. The East Branch lodge, known as Comanche Tribe No. 134, was established in 1889 at a time of great expansion within the organization. The weathervane probably dates from that period. It is not clear when the lodge surrendered its charter, but by the 1960s the building upon which the weathervane stood was shuttered and run-down.

The weathervane depicts Tammany, a semilegendary and widely respected chief of the Delaware Indians who is said to have played a significant role in the 1682 treaty between the Indians and William Penn. The legends concerning Tammany were important in the rituals of the Improved Order of Red Men. In an emblematic diploma published for the Order about 1912, Tammany is given the central place of honor, with Washington at his right.

The Tammany vane is stylistically related to one depicting Massasoit (c. 1580–1661), the chief of the Wampanoag Indians who negotiated a treaty with the Pilgrims in 1621. Several manufacturers in the late nineteenth century, including the Boston firms Harris & Company and W.A. Snow & Company (act. c. 1885–c. 1940), produced Massasoit vanes. In the Harris and Snow examples, the molded copper figure is shown standing with a bow, arrow, and quiver in almost exactly the same position as Tammany and in nearly identical dress. Despite the smaller size of the Massasoit vanes, the similarities with Tammany are too marked to be coincidental. It is likely that the figure of Massasoit was the source of the design for Tammany or that they are both derived from a common source.

Although the maker of the Tammany vane is unknown, it is reasonable to speculate that the piece was commissioned from a firm that manufactured weathervanes rather than from an individual artisan, especially considering the complexity of constructing the mold for so large a figure; nineteenth-century manufacturers advertised that vanes of any design could be made to order. This striking figure may be the largest American weathervane ever produced. The presence of about twenty bullet holes confirms the stories that local marksmen used it for target practice in its last days in East Branch.

Gerard C. Wertkin, "St. Tammany Weathervane," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 351.


St. Tammany Weathervane
Date: c. 1890
Artist:
Dimensions: 102 1/2 × 103 × 12"
Materials: Paint on molded copper
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Place/Region: United States
Accession Number: 1963.2.1
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