National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of "Sailor Jack" Whirligig
Rendered by Frances Cohen (artist), 1939
watercolor, graphite, and colored pencil on paperboard
overall: 38.3 x 27.9 cm (15 1/16 x 11 in.) Original IAD Object: 13" high; 5 1/2" wide
Index of American Design
Not on View
From the Tour: Woodcarving from the Index of American Design
Object 21 of 26

The whirligig is a special kind of weathervane, which can indicate velocity as well as wind direction. Based on the principle of the windmill, whirligigs were usually in the form of a human figure so that the paddlelike arms, extending in opposite directions, could be set spinning by the wind. Although the larger whirligigs were undoubtedly placed outdoors to function as vanes, smaller versions may well have served as children's toys. A clue for dating whirligigs is the costume of the figure. This example, known as "Sailor Jack," wears a hat that suggests an officer in the War of 1812. Thus, it was most likely made in the early nineteenth century. The carving of the figure, however, is timelessly abstract.

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