Published: February 8, 2011
“When I looked at the Angel Gabriel weathervane on top of the church through binoculars, I judged it to be about 42 inches wide. When it came down from the steeple and I actually held it in my hands, it was 65 inches wide,” Fred Giampietro, well-known antiques dealer and folk art specialist of New Haven, said. That was about a year ago in Franklin, Ohio, in front of the Christian Chapel that was constructed in 1872. That very same year, the angel weathervane was made and took its place on the steeple, as is documented in the early church history records.
Like many other churches around the country, the Christian Chapel has come on difficult times and looked to its weathervane for relief. “They were considering selling the weathervane and accepting offers, most of which they felt came in low,” Fred said. “It was then that they contacted me for an evaluation and appraisal of the weathervane.” How did they reach him in the first place? Fred said, “They Googled ‘angel weathervane’ and my name came up in connection with the angel vane that was stolen from Crown Point, N.Y., offered to me, and ultimately returned to the rightful owner.”
Fred continued, “I flew out to Franklin, viewed the weathervane from the ground, and told them that based on a good surface and condition, it fell into the range of $750,000 to $1 million.” While there, he learned that the church had been painted sometime in the 1950s and the painters had gone from ground up to the top, that is, the top of the weathervane. Thus the original gilt surface was covered in white paint, two coats in several areas, and the bullet holes had been caulked. “Probably the caulking was a good thing and helped preserve the vane,” Fred said. He thinks the weathervane was possibly made by Mott, a firm with a factory in Chicago at that time.
“I offered the church people several options, including restoring the vane and selling it for them, and showing it for the first time at the Winter Antiques Show in New York City,” Fred said. An agreement was reached that included an exact copy of the vane be made and put back up on the church steeple.
Enter John Hallock of Bethlehem, Conn., the expert craftsman in the restoration and construction of weathervanes for many years. Among the weathervanes that John has made locally are the dove of peace vane on the Congregational Church in Newtown, and the bee weathervane on top of the office of The Bee Publishing Company, publisher of Antiques and The Arts Weekly .
“It is hard to estimate how long it will take to make the angel, but at least two to three months, maybe more,” John said. “We work on special projects like this part of the day, while the rest of the time is spent keeping up with our regular restoration business.” Right now John has a full set of measurements, lots of photographs, “and we are going to go over the entire vane again with calipers before we actually start work,” he said. “This is really a good-sized vane, but I have done a couple of larger ones over the years,” he added.
A large crane †”The largest I have ever hired,” said Fred †operated by a local contractor, brought the weathervane to the ground and then the work really began.
“An intern at Yale was recommended to me to help with removing the white paint,” Fred said, “and it took us close to six months to complete the task.” They were able to move at the pace of about one square inch per day, and more than 1,500 cotton swabs later, the weathervane was back to its weathered gilt surface. “I never worked so hard on anything before,” Fred said.
When talking about the weathervane, Fred says that it is the best thing he has ever found and considers it a most important discovery in American folk art. “I have been in the antiques business for 35 years, exhibited at the Winter Antiques Show for 19 years, and, as has always been my policy, I take fresh things to the show and do not let my clients or collectors know what I am bringing.”
One collector who spent some time looking the weathervane over at the show told Antiques and The Arts Weekly , “If Fred had let me know he had this vane, I might have looked around for financing before coming to New York.”
The weathervane did not sell at the Winter Show, but, “I have a hold on it right now, so we will see,” Fred said. “It is incredible, competes with the best, so I don’t mind having it around for a while,” he added.
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