The Bleriot Model XI Monoplane Weathervane, American, circa 1909-1913. Unidentified maker. Copper with traces of original gilding. 10" x 57¼" x 55". Poland Spring House, Poland Spring, Maine. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, from the collection of Michael and Patricia Del Castello. This singular American weathervane is a carefully rendered representation of the small, fragile monoplane that pioneering French aviator Louis Blériot created and flew over the English Channel on July 25, 1909. No other airplane weathervane remotely like this sculptural rendering is known.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Receives a Rare American Weathervane

The extraordinary Bleriot XI Monoplane Weathervane made its final flight from the collection of Michael and Patricia Del Castello to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a journey that was coordinated by Folk Art dealer Allan Katz, who is also widely known as a regular presenter on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow. Katz’s relationship as advisor and friend to the Del Castellos goes back over 40 years, and as a member of the selection committee for the recent exhibition American Weathervanes: The Art of the Winds at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, he recommended the Bleriot weathervane’s inclusion. At the conclusion of the show in January 2022, the Del Castellos told Katz of their desire to find a permanent home for this outstanding example of American vernacular sculpture so it could be shared with a wider audience. Katz proposed The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its thousands of daily visitors as the perfect place, the Del Castellos concurred, and Mr. Katz initiated and coordinated the donation. This article was commissioned by Katz from curator and author of the book coinciding with The Art of the Winds exhibition Robert Shaw, for presentation to the Metropolitan Museum to provide a history of the piece. Announcement of the gift was made on September 23, 2022. “The gift marks an important development as the Museum continues to evolve the breadth of its collection, especially as the American Wing approaches its centennial year in 2024. We are deeply grateful to Michael and Patricia Del Castello for their generous gift of this unique work of art,” stated Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met.

Louis Blériot on the runway before his historic flight. July 25, 1909. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs, Washington, D.C.

According to local tradition corroborated by Louis Blériot’s granddaughter, the Blériot XI Monoplane Weathervane was specially made for and installed on the Poland Spring House in Poland Spring, Maine to celebrate races between a crack team of French aviators flying their Blériot XI airplanes and American aviators flying Blériot XIs they had purchased or made from kits, held in Poland Spring and Portland, Maine, not long after Blériot’s historic flight across the English Channel. Louis Blériot did not participate in the races, as he stopped competitive flying after a crash in December 1909.

Louis Blériot’s flight, which marked the first-ever crossing of the English Channel in this newly invented air machine, electrified the world and made the aviator an international celebrity. His twenty-five-mile flight from Calais, France to Dover, England, powered by a 25-horsepower engine took thirty-six minutes and thirty seconds.

In a 2005 PBS documentary about Blériot’s historic flight, Dr. Tom Crouch, Curator Emeritus of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., said: “Even from today’s vantage point, it’s still one of the great events, one of the most significant events in the history of flight.” It showed the world the enormous potential of powered flight and made Paris the capital of aviation, shifting that distinction away from the United States and the Wright Brothers, who had made the first manned flights in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina just six years earlier.

Both through its own remarkable presence as well as the spirit of the Blériot air races it conjures and honors, this one-of-a-kind weathervane embodies the visionary, anything-is-possible zeitgeist of its time as well as any artifact of the era.

The Poland Spring House in Poland Spring, Maine, was a popular Gilded Age resort hotel and spa that was built in 1876. Poland Spring was a Maine landmark that drew visitors from across the country, who came for both the resort’s commodious accommodations and healing waters. The Poland Spring company is still a major bottler of still and carbonated Maine spring water.

This photograph of the Blériot Model XI Monoplane Weathervane in place on the hotel was published in the Poland Spring House’s 1914 Newsletter. 

The weathervane was probably placed on the building in 1913 or earlier. It is one of the few early twentieth-century weathervanes that represents an airplane of any kind, and its imposing scale alone sets it apart. The weathervane is roughly one-sixth the size of the original plane, which measured 25 feet long with a wingspan of 25 ft. 7 in. with a height of 8 ft. 10 in. While the shop that created this unique special-ordered weathervane is unknown, the heart of the weathervane industry was clearly entrenched in New England, so it was possibly made in the Boston area, where several manufacturers of high-quality weathervanes had been in business since the middle of the nineteenth century. The weathervane was made entirely of copper, the dominant material of American weathervane makers from the 1850s on.

Most likely the Blériot XI Monoplane Weathervane was commissioned by the Poland Spring House. The shop chosen was also likely to have been sent a set of Blériot’s drawings that they could work from scale to complete their special order. One possible candidate is the W.A. Snow Iron Works in Boston.

In their book A Gallery of American Weathervanes & Whirligigs, Robert Bishop and Patricia Coblenz state that “tradition indicates” that the weathervane was made to commemorate Louis Blériot winning air races held in Portland and Poland Spring Maine soon after his channel flight.

In Maine Antique Digest editor Sam Pennington’s article about the Blériot XI Monoplane Weathervane’s sale at the June 1974 auction of famed folk art dealer Chris and Ellen Huntington’s collection, Pennington relates that the Bleriot weathervane was sold to a man who had driven from New York City determined to buy it and that he paid $8,500. Although not identified, the buyer was almost certainly Dr. William Greenspon, a prominent New York folk art collector who Bishop and Coblentz credit as the weathervane’s owner. Pennington also reports that Chris Huntington had acquired the weathervane from the vacant Poland Spring House the previous fall (1973) where it had been in place “since before 1914,” and that “several in the crowd remarked that they had remembered seeing it there all their lives.” It was lucky that Huntington removed the weathervane from the massive old Victorian hotel when he did because the historic building burned to the ground on July 3, 1975.