MUSEUMS / Curators Choice: The American Museum

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The Independent Culture
The object I've chosen is a 19th-century weather vane depicting an American Indian. Made out of sheet metal, it is a beautiful example of American folk art, and shows an Indian with a raised bow and arrow with painted stripes on his feather headdress and leggings. We can't pin down precisely where it came from, although we do know it was from the area around New England.

Before the days of weather forecasting every farm would have had a weather vane, as they needed to know the direction of the weather for their business and indeed their very survival. For communal buildings, such as churches, they probably would be more elaborately crafted but usually they were either done by the farmers themselves or they got the local blacksmith to do them.

The strange thing is that the Indians are not really represented as threatening figures. They are usually shown with a raised bow, that's true, but they don't look dangerous at all. In fact, this one seems to have a grin on his face. By this time the Indians had been pushed westwards and the people who were making these in the east saw them as these rather strange people who lived over in the great plains. .

I like the freshness of the piece; it's naive but it's charming. It shows that work done by artisans, although created for a practical purpose, can incorporate so much artistic feeling, demonstrating the joy they put into their craft.

Judith Elsdon is the assisant curator of The American Museum, Claverton Manor, Bath, Avon (0225 460503). Tues-Sun 2-5pm with the grounds open Tues-Sun 1-6pm

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