Andy William's Eye for Folk Art

Andy William's Eye for Folk Art  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers.

Most folks remember Andy Williams as the velvety crooner from the 1960s and ‘70s who eased the heartaches of Americans with his soothing vocals.   

Cocks have always been seen, but never so well as in American weather vanes.
— Pablo Picasso

The Andy Williams TV variety show ran from 1962-1967.   On his show the crooner sang with performers like Bobby Darin, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., and Judy Garland among many others.   At one time Andy earned more gold albums than any solo performer except Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley.  For my mom’s generation, the guy was pure magic.

Andy also had an eye for folk art, especially vintage weather vanes.  As Pablo Picasso said when he saw a rooster-shaped vane at a Paris show of Americana, “Cocks have always been seen, but never so well as in American weather vanes.”

People think of weather vanes as purely decorative objects.  But they were designed to be functional, made to show the direction of the wind and placed at the highest point on a building rooftop.   

As long as human beings have farmed the land and sailed the seas there have been weather vanes.  Being able to predict the direction of the wind and potential weather changes was a key to survival.  

Archaeologists uncovered bronze Viking weather vanes from the 9th century. They were often shaped like creatures from Norse fable.  Weather vanes were also common on the masts of Viking ships and in Scandinavian churches.

When the early settlers came to America they adapted vane designs adding motifs like wooden arrows and copper Indians.  Some of the most valued vanes in recent history were handmade by local smiths before 1850.  They are hollow, three-dimensional figures of hammered sheet copper.  They’re also rare.

Vanes were especially popular during the Victorian era.  Some Victorian rooftops had weather vanes covering every inch of the roof.  A number of factories like Cushing and White came into being during the era to meet the demand.

What collectors search for nowadays are the factory-made vanes fashioned in the late-19th and early-20th century by hammering copper into iron molds.   The excess was trimmed off and parts were soldered together and sometimes covered in gold leaf.  

Typically what people think of when they imagine weather vanes is the rooster design with letters showing the points of the compass. But not all weather vanes even had pointers.  The modern ones often have arrows.   

With all the reproductions around it’s sometimes difficult to tell the old from the new.  The old copper vanes have a greenish patina caused by surface oxidation.  They’ll appear pale-green to near-black.  The reproductions are typically aged with acid and look almost turquoise.  Or, you’ll see drip lines from paint on them.

On March 3, Skinner Auctioneers, Boston, Mass., offered The Andy Williams Folk Art Collection on the block.  Featured in the sale was a selection of weather vanes.   Andy’s selection of vanes not only demonstrates his eye for design and quality but also the lasting appeal of American folk art objects.

Weather Vanes

Horse and Sulky; molded copper and cast zinc; American; late-19th century; full-bodied; 47 ¾ inches long;  $20,400.

Leaping Reindeer; pieced; cut-out; sheet iron figure; American; late-19th century; 103 ½ inches long;  $20,400.

Cow; flattened full-body sheet copper with applied sheet copper ears; weathered red paint; attributed to Cushing and White; American; late-19th century; 39 ½ inches long;  $22,800.

Steer; molded flattened full-body sheet copper figure with applied sheet copper ears; American; late-19th century; 38 ½ inches long;  $25,200.

Pig; molded copper and cast zinc; full-bodied; American; late-19th century; 35 ½ inches long;  $36,000.


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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