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Wind Work, Wind Play: Weathervanes & Whirligigs

A travelling exhibit by the Canadian Museum of Civilization

The Galt Museum & Archives is wishing for wind this summer as it brings a new travelling exhibition to southern Alberta: Wind Work, Wind Play: Weathervanes & Whirligigs — developed and circulated by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec — features 30+ pieces of wind-powered Canadian folk art dating from the 1870s-1970s, and a number of southern Alberta examples too.

“Wind is a common point of conversation in southwestern Alberta,” says Curator Wendy Aitkens. “We note its intensity and we note its absence. With this exhibit we hope to bring a different perspective to our typical conversation about the wind.  This exhibit is a whimsical look at heritage and contemporary whirligigs and weathervanes – objects that entertain us because the wind animates them.”

“We are pleased to showcase more than 30 wonderful wind-driven pieces from our extensive folk art collection at the Galt Museum & Archives,” says Victor Rabinovitch, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “Once dismissed as primitive or naïve, Canadian folk art has long since come into its own, and we are proud to show these objects, which reflect the whimsy, humour and creativity of ordinary Canadians from coast to coast.”

Weathervanes have been part of the European and North American landscape for centuries, perched atop every community’s tallest buildings, on barn roofs, church, steeples, and castle towers. Many are now considered icons of folk art.

Most people are aware of the weathervane’s role in telling the direction of the wind. However, not everyone knows that the wind’s direction can also give an idea of oncoming weather. “I've always loved old weathervanes, but I never knew how they really worked,” says Sheldon Posen, Curator of Canadian Folklife at the Museum of Civilization. “As it turns out, they are more than just pretty pointers!”

Whirligigs, on the other hand, are created to amuse and entertain. These wind-driven lawn ornaments are generally small figural creations, which, when placed outdoors, engage in frantic movements as they ceaselessly accomplish nothing.

Nearly everyone loves these folk art treasures. The whirligigs, new and old, are masterworks of fun—sawyers who saw away, fiddlers who fiddle away, farmers who milk cows, and voyageurs who paddle all the faster when the wind blows. The scarred old weathervanes are charming—classic horses, fish, pigs, and arrows rendered in wood, sheet steel, and wrought iron by skilled, often amateur, hands.

The travelling exhibition has been enhanced with local wind-powered folk art pieces from the Galt Museum, as well as from the collections of the Prairie Engine Tractor Society in Picture Butte, Doug Costall from Claresholm and Alex Pavlenko from Lethbridge.

Tom McFall, Executive Director of the Alberta Craft Council, is also a collector of folk art whirligigs and weathervanes, and has loaned three of his pieces for this exhibit. He will be guest speaker at The Curator Presents… part of the official opening of Wind Work, Wind Play: Weathervanes & Whirligigs, on Sunday, June 2 at 2:00 pm. His “Folk Art on the Prairies” presentation will be followed by a ribbon cutting; the exhibition will be available for viewing through September 2, 2013.

Wind Work, Wind Play was first on display at the Toronto Pearson International Airport, Terminal 1, Gallery 120 in 2008, introducing both Canadian and international visitors to aspects of Canadian society, culture and history. It has since been shown in Alma and Rimouski in Quebec; in Peterborough and Markham, Ontario; at both the Musée Heritage Museum in St. Albert and Museum London earlier this year; and will travel to the Surrey Museum in BC after the Lethbridge showing.

Programs reflecting folk art and wind power will be offered throughout the run of the exhibit, including family activities during Summer Family Fun; presentations as part of Wednesdays at the Galt for ages 55+; special topics during Thursday programs for adults; and a special Whirligigs & Weathervanes on the Prairies Family Festival featuring handmade local and Alberta-made examples on Saturday, August 31.

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