Early Objects & Sculpture
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  • Artist unidentified
  • United States
  • 1860–1880
  • Paint on wood with metal
  • 48 x 23 in. diam.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of Frances and Paul Martinson, 1995.3.1
  • This unusual sculpture has been termed a “whirligig” presumably because it is articulated when propelled by the wind. Each of the figure’s arms is separately attached to the body, which is mounted to a pole with hand-fashioned spokes that spread like the ribs of an umbrella. The spokes are threaded around the circumference with wire, and each terminates in a flat metal blade. The blades are placed vertically so that when the flat ends catch the wind, the spokes turn, the arms rotate, and the figure spins around atop the metal ribs.

    Revolutionary War soldiers were commonplace subjects for a variety of toys, decorative arts, whirligigs, and other forms. The positive associations with liberty and national pride made them a fitting subject for such expressions. The figure in this sculpture is also a soldier, but one wearing a Civil War uniform. The Civil War inspired drums, toy soldiers, and other war toys; when it was a theme in decorative objects, the war usually was invoked through documentation of specific battles or soldiers.
  • Photo by John Parnell