Weathervanes: Whether you need them or not

Cow weathervane atop the New Ag. Hall.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Holand

Cow weathervane atop the New Ag. Hall.

Like the cherry atop a sundae, a decorative weathervane can serve as the crowning touch on a home — a final defining flourish and an artistic focal point. Weathervanes, which can be found gracing many Vineyard homes, businesses and landmarks, often give some indication of the personality, business concern, or passion of the owners as well.

Witness the familiar Notre Dame Fighting Irish pugilist logo decorating a home in Edgartown, a female (an important distinction) blue crab above a house in Katama and three tandem bronze kayaks whose occupants — the family members — continually follow the direction of the wind in West Chop.

All of these designs were rendered by the Island’s premiere weathervane craftsman, Tony Holand, who took over the business Tuck and Holand from his former partner, the late Travis Tuck, 11 years ago. Mr. Tuck started out in the weathervane line in 1972 with a request from Steven Spielberg to create a shark vane for Quint’s shack in Jaws.

Since then, the Tuck and Holand studio has turned out hundreds of custom weathervanes using the copper repoussé technique, which involves hammering from behind to create designs in relief. Rather that soldering his pieces, Mr. Holand brazes metal together using a torch that heats up to much hotter temperature and provides a more solid bond. The average piece requires more than 100 hours of sculpting, brazing, and finishing.

“I usually try to slightly over-engineer the structure so I sleep well at night,” says Mr. Holand. “The idea is that I’m making something that will be around for 100 years. The biggest thing is taking the time and craftsmanship to do things correctly to create work that will well outlast me.”

Mr. Holand likes the fact that his weathervanes will most likely remain permanent fixtures and are often passed along through the generations. “You’re creating an heirloom for people,” he says. “Most things today are so disposable. I’m really happy to not be part of that.”

Creating a weathervane involves both artistic talent and engineering skills. “To make a weathervane work you need more surface area to the back,” says Mr. Holand, “The wind is named for the direction it comes from not the way it’s blowing. To get it into the wind you still need to keep the center of gravity over the access of pivot.”

These mechanical requirements sometimes make it difficult to incorporate a design into a functioning work. But Mr. Holand clearly enjoys a challenge. He explains that his customers range from those who come to him with an exacting drawing to those who have no idea what they want. “I liken it to making a reservation for dinner. You know where you want to eat, but you don’t have to decide exactly what you’re having right now.” He often helps his customers come up with a design that’s unique and personal, but that also will make an impact when seen from afar. “You have to come up with the right shape that is visually pleasing and also easily recognizable.”

“I think the fun part is in the detail,” says Mr. Holand, who, for his first piece, meticulously hammered in geographically correct craters on a moon and stars piece and even added two tiny astronauts as a personal touch and as a surprise for the clients. “They seem to be getting more complex. As people ask for more complicated and larger pieces, my skill set grows.” Many of his pieces include beautiful precious metal decoration.

Although he does offer a handful of limited edition standardized versions of his own designs, the majority of Mr. Holand’s work consists of custom-made pieces. “For people who say, ‘I want something simple and easy,’ this is not simple and easy,” he says. Each custom piece takes a minimum of a month to complete and he currently has a backlog of 2½; years.

Most customers enjoy visiting the shop and witnessing stages of the process which Mr. Holand enthusiastically walks people through. He uses copper, brass, and bronze, stainless steel for the hardware and gold leaf and palladium leaf for the decorative elements.

Some of the more unusual Tuck and Holand pieces include a globe with a plane circling it, a trio of Labrador retrievers, a rabbit in a tower (based on the literal translation of a family name) and a very intricate rendering of the characters from the Where the Wild Things Are. That one, like a lot of Mr. Holand’s work, ended up inside the house once a customer (whose rambunctious grandkids were the inspiration for the piece) saw the results and decided the sculpture deserved more prominent placement. “Half of what I make now ends up going indoors,” Mr. Holand says. He also makes intricate outdoor signs for homes and businesses.

Mr. Holand’s interest in metal work began when he was a kid growing up on a 6,000-acre wheat and barley farm in Washington state. He became intrigued with a big scrap metal pile on the property and got a crash course in welding from his uncle. His experimenting eventually led him to study metal work in college and then to an apprenticeship with Mr. Tuck shortly after moving to the Vineyard in 1996. He became a partner in the business a few years later.

Whit Hanschka of Hanschka Fine Metalwork produces primarily ornamental metalwork including railings, fireplace screens, lighting elements, gates, fences and furniture. However, he has also created some objets d’art including a few copper weathervanes. “I do just about anything if people ask,” he says. This includes repair work and he has done some refurbishing of damaged vanes.

Mr. Hanschka explains that he considers himself more of a craftsman than an artist, “I’m sort of on the cusp between the two,” he says. “The line is a blurry one and I straddle it.”

Memorable weathervanes that Mr. Hanschka has created include a cow with two calves for a home on tiny Cow Island, Maine, and a guitar for Carly Simon.

Scott McDowell, like Mr. Holand, focuses strictly on works of art. He started out as a jeweler working with gold and silver in the 1960s on the Vineyard. He switched to copper about 20 years ago when he first experimented with some scrap metal he found at a job site. “I was a contractor,” he says, “These roofers and masons were leaving pieces of flashing around. I fashioned a piece into a fish and stuck it on my daughter’s rocking chair. People started asking me for more.”

Seven years ago he opened a studio/shop in Menemsha called the Copperworks of Martha’s Vineyard. There he designs, produces, and sells all types of decorative copper pieces including wall art, chandeliers, lamps, and more. He also makes weathervanes from copper with wire reinforcement, using power line wire that came down during hurricanes.

Some of the more interesting pieces he has created include a kicking mule for Spike Lee, whose production company is called Forty Acres and a Mule; a school of whales, and a piece fashioned after one of the wooden vanes of Frank Adams, a noted woodworker from the early 20th century whose work is highly sought after today.

Many of Mr. McDowell’s pieces have moveable parts. “I like doing mechanical pieces,” he says. One of his weathervanes — an articulated bluefish — has a center that spins around like a propeller.

Most of Mr. McDowell’s designs have an ocean theme — primarily boats, fish and other marine life. A large swordfish — what he considers the unofficial symbol of Menemsha — sits atop the roof of his shop. His artwork has become very popular and he has a tough time keeping up with demand since he also runs a full-time charter boat business in the summertime.

Mr. McDowell’s work reflects his lifestyle and he’s found both very gratifying. “Fishing and art, you can’t beat it.”

Info: Tuck and Holand, 275 State Road, Vineyard Haven; 508-693-3914; tuckandholand.com. Hanschka Fine Metal Works, 32 Breakdown Lane, Holmes Hole Business Park, Vineyard Haven; 508-696-6984; finemetalwork.com; The Copperworks of Martha’s Vineyard, 22 Basin Rd., Menemsha; 508-645-2995; the-copperworks.com

The weathervanes of Tuck and Holand grace many a Vineyard landmark. Here are a few that are highly visible.

Edgartown

The Edgartown Town Hall – a bark sailing ship modeled after an old photo of an iconic Edgartown boat from the early part of the last century.

A quill – the Vineyard Gazette

An arrow – the Federated Church

A burgee (distinguishing flag for a boating organization) – Edgartown Yacht Club

Oak Bluffs

The Nobska (retired ferry) – Steamship Authority Building

Whale – Ocean Park Bandstand

Garlic and pan of pasta – Jimmy Seas

Logo – Farm Neck gazebo

Burgee – East Chop Yacht Club

Vineyard Haven:

Child on the beach – Owen Park

Banner – Town Hall

Pterodactyl holding Raquel Welch – Cronig’s real estate, Main St.

Grasshopper – Cronig’s Market

West Tisbury

Cornucopia – Up-Island Cronig’s Market

Logo arrow – Tea Lane Assoc.

Cow – New Ag Hall

Mr. Holand has also created huge weathervanes for a couple of notable national sites.

He and Mr. Tuck are responsible for the largest full bodied weathervane in the world – the 10-foot-long, one-ton Nittany lion (team logo) that reigns over the Penn State football stadium. It is made of hundreds of individual pieces and required an additional 300 to 400 pounds of lead in the head to balance it out. The massive lion was the last piece that the partners worked on together.

Mr. Holand created a six- by four-foot elephant that decorates the Philadelphia Zoo’s Children’s Zoo building. It is a copy of the original weathervane from the zoo’s elephant house.