Rooftop Art: Hingham Weathervanes Continue American Tradition

While wandering around Hingham, look up! Otherwise, you will miss creative examples of one of America’s oldest folk arts, the weathervane.

Written and photographed by Kevin M. Walsh

The use of weather vanes began centuries ago, most notably atop church steeples, where banners, flags and angels attracted attention. Many Hingham churches continue this tradition today. Over time, other New England landowners began altering the art form to advertise their professions, interests or possessions. Longtime weathervane maker Brian Chabot of Cape Cod Cupola in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, observes that “most weathervanes are a reflection of the people who reside beneath them.” Chabot has designed many for Hingham residents, and his latest creation is a turkey for a residence on, naturally, Turkey Hill Lane.

In Hingham, many of the rooftop ornaments evoke a nautical theme depicting boats, birds and sea life. However, others in town go beyond the obvious and have weathervanes that cater to a unique variety of personal and business interests. Hingham residents John and Ann Grady have two distinct vanes: One is the angel Gabriel blowing his horn while the other is a flying pig. “We know how blessed we are,” says John Grady in explaining the Gabriel vane. As for the more whimsical flying pig, Grady says, “We like animals.”

Flying pigs are surprisingly popular. Multiple homeowners display them prominently, including Main Street resident Katy Cushing, who has even named her vane “Penelope” and enjoys watching her flying pig spinning in the wind. Atop a Summer Street garage is another popular depiction: a large dog. Owner Hope Mangili says her husband “has always had a passion for dogs, and especially golden retrievers.” Some of the more unusual displays include a moose, a lighthouse, a baseball batter and a combination vane showing the moon, the sun and a star.

Businesses still use the roofline accent as a means of attracting attention. There’s the large fire engine over the Bare Cove Fire Museum, a gold banner with a wheel at one end above the Dependable Cleaners building, an impressive eagle above the Hammond Residential Real Estate offices on South Street and a huge tuna above the Whole Foods Market in the Derby Street Shoppes. Even government offices have joined the movement. Notable examples include a large gold arrow with distinctive feathers on the Central Fire Station cupola on Main Street and a large ship that tops Town Hall.

Next time you walk through town, keep your eyes to the sky and you’ll see that there’s a lot to look up to.

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