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Archive → November, 2011

Uncovering the history of a St. Tammany weathervane

Guest post by Celia Arnaud, a senior editor at Chemical & Engineering News.

Before conservation, this St. Tammany weathervane was coated with an unwanted layer of black paint. Credit: Matt Hamilton/Williamstown Art Conservation Center.


Many pieces that started out as functional objects have crossed over into the realm of art. This is especially true for that genre
known as folk art. Metal weathervanes are a prime example of such art. Because these pieces actually had a job, they weren’t carefully housed indoors. They were exposed to the elements—and the local gunslingers.

At last week’s Eastern Analytical Symposium, Kate Payne de Chavez, a conservator at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, in Massachusetts, described the steps she took to characterize and repair a St. Tammany weathervane that had seen some
tough times.

The St. Tammany motif features an Indian chief holding a bow and arrow and standing on the shaft of another arrow. He’s believed to represent a 17th century chief in the Lenni-Lenape tribe in the Delaware Valley, known alternatively as Tammany, Tamanend, or Tammamend. Because of his role in establishing peace between Native Americans and the English settlers in the Pennsylvania colony, he achieved near-mythic status, and his name was co-opted by various Societies of St. Tammany, the most famous of which grew into the Tammany Hall political machine.

The largest and most famous St. Tammany weathervane—standing more than eight feet tall—is at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. The one that Payne de Chavez repaired is only one-third the size, nearly three feet tall.

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Art conservation in an unexpected place

Guest post from Celia Arnaud, a senior editor with C&EN

Today and tomorrow, I’m in Somerset, N.J., home of the Garden State
Exhibition Center and the Eastern Analytical Symposium. Not a place that you’d
expect to read about on a blog about conservation science. What people might not
realize is that EAS hosts New York Conservation Foundation’s Conservation
Science Annual, a symposium–as the name might suggest–on the science of art and cultural heritage
conservation. If the conference that Sarah attended in Lisbon in September is the largest art conservation conference, then this is surely one of the smallest.

The symposium has been a fixture of the EAS conference program
since 1994, but I attended my first one in 2006, when I got the chance to
report one of my favorite stories, a look at how electrochemical and
spectroscopic methods are being used to save shipwrecks. In my years of
attending the symposium, I’ve found that no matter how interesting the talks
the audience tends to be me, the speakers, and maybe a handful of other folks.

This year’s lineup is a bit scattershot, with everything grouped
together under the general heading of “Analysis for Cultural Heritage.” Rather
than try to shoehorn very different talks into one post, I’m
going to share in separate posts over the next few weeks the ones that pique my interest.