Whirligigs

wood cutter whirligig
sailor whirligig

Even the term whirligig escapes the serious intent of the weathervane which was originally developed as a utilitarian device to predict weather. A whirligig has always been perceived as a toy or product of someone’s whimsy for pleasure. Most whirligigs could be divided into two types, windmills or figures. Rather than silhouette style weathervanes, single figure, full body whirligigs were carved from a singular piece of wood. Of those whirligigs based on the human form, there are several genres into which they may be categorized. Their differences relate to the whirling mechanisms, the position of the arms, and how they relate to their wind catching paddles. Many figural whirligigs, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries themes and characters depicted figures of authority and significance. Included among such professions would have been soldiers, sailors, statesmen often on horses, and well dressed business and craftsmen. Whirligigs based on the windmill form are as diverse as the imaginations of their creators. This is evidenced by, among others, renowned folk artists David Butler and Vollis Simpson. Born in 1919, Mr. Simpson’s phantasmagorical whirling environment is located on his brother’s property, in Wilson, North Carolina. His vocation and interest in heavy machinery resulted in massive whirligigs, actually wind driven sculptural pieces, as tall as 40 feet. Born in 1898, New Orleans, Louisiana, self taught artist David Butler’s pieces were more often made of re-purposed remnants of tin metal, wood, and plastic with paint. Whether for utilitarian function or pure pleasure, wind driven weathervanes and whirligigs have become prized American collectibles with often staggering sales figures at galleries, estate sales, and auction houses particularly in the Ohio, Pennsylvania and open and down the East Coast.

Whirligig with Witch and Horse, 1918, by Charlie Burnham (dates unknown). Folk art in the Smithsonian American Art Museum (National Portrait Gallery), Washington, DC, USA.

Whirligig with Woman Churning and Man Sawing, 1920s, artist unknown. Folk art in the Smithsonian American Art Museum (National Portrait Gallery), Washington, DC, USA.

Jack Phelps Folk Art Wood Carving


This figural painted wood carving by the artist Jack Phelps, was originally discovered in the late 80s at an antique dealer who specialized in folk art at their shop in Lebanon, Ohio. Lebanon is a small town that touts dozens of independent dealers and antique malls specializing in collectibles whether glass ware, furniture, house wares, ….

Although we have attempted over the years to discover something, anything about the artist who inscribed his signature and “Jamestown, KY” on the bottom of the base of this piece; we are as yet ¬†unsuccessful. Our best guess is that this carving was for, or of, a lodge member of a fraternal society.

Given the patina and primitive carving on this piece we believe it to be from the 40’s to 50’s.

Vintage 1934 Primitive Embroidered Sampler

garden embroidered sampler
backside of embroidered sampler
This sampler with lovely sentiment is highly collectible. It was found, still in its original broken frame with this graphic Collier’s Weekly frame backer. It could be disassembled and gently washed and re-framed. It reads, “rememberance is the sweetest flower that in a garden grows. NC 1934.”

“The Pioneer Woman” Folk Art Painting

pioneer woman folk art painting
We found this painting in this old stained oak frame in the 80s at an antique mall in West Virginia. We attempted to discover who Mildred Bennington was aside from an obviously talented artist. As a collector, I would describe the piece as somewhat primitive but skillfully created including the manner by which it was framed. Signed along the bottom of the painting in pencil it reads “the Pioneer Woman” Mildred Bennington 36.

Wesley Willis Outsider Artist 1986 Drawing – Dan Ryan Expressway

wesley willis drawing
wesley willis drawing
Probably better known for his music than his art, drawn with markers and ballpoint pens. Wesley Willis’ art focused nearly exclusively on urban landscapes, specifically Chicago, his hometown.This work was one of several purchased from the artist as he worked streetside. It is a 1986 drawing titled “Dan Ryan Expressway 51st St.” one of his favorite subjects. This is typical of his cityscapes which tend to include tall buildings, as well as semi-trucks, buses, and freeways. His work has been exhibited at Chicago’s Intuit gallery.