NEWBURYPORT – A replica of the iconic Angel Gabriel weathervane that has symbolically blown its trumpet atop the People’s United Methodist Church since at least the late 1800s will be auctioned next month to raise money for the church.
Made in 1983 by Newbury coppersmith Gene Palumbo, this copper and tin weathervane stood watch high above the church on Purchase Street for more than 30 years. With a pre-sale estimate in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, it is included in the John McInnis Auctioneers Americana auction scheduled on Dec. 10.
Palumbo’s angel replaced the original weathervane, which was made in 1840. Taken down in the early 1980s, the original Angel Gabriel is now housed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Duncan MacBurnie, a native Newburyporter who has been a member of the People’s Church for more than seven decades, said Palumbo’s weathervane was retired a few years ago because it sustained considerable weather-related over the years. It was replaced by the current Angel Gabriel weathervane, made at The Tin Shop in Beverly and erected in 2017.
Since it was removed, the Palumbo vane has stood on a book shelf inside the church. Church members, appreciating both the history and iconic stature of the Angel Gabriel weathervane, decided it might be worth something on the auction block.
And so, as MacBurnie said, “we consigned it” with McInnis Auctioneers in Amesbury. “The church needs money to pay some bills and could use the money.”
McInnis’ online catalog lists the weathervane, sized at 32 by 59 inches, in the first day of its Dec. 10-11 auction. Mindful of the vane’s importance, history and significance, MacBurnie is hopeful the church gets more than pre-sale estimate. “It still has a good look to it even though it’s damaged.”
One of the angel’s feet had to be secured at some point with an extra metal plate. Photos show some discoloration and minor damage that one might expect from a soldered metal sculpture that survived so many New England winters.
According to the book “Weathervanes of New England,” the original Angel Gabriel, made by the Boston firm of Gould & Hazlett, first adorned Newburyport’s Universalist Church on Fair and Middle streets in about 1840.
When that church closed in the late 1880s, the weathervane was taken down and stored in ropemaker Moses Jackman’s barn. Jackman was a member of the People’s Church on Purchase Street, so when that church added a steeple, he donated the Angel Gabriel weathervane.
In 1939 the weathervane was taken down, studied and refinished under the Works Progress Administration. It was the subject of a painting, now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, by Lucille Chabot.
In 1965, the Angel Gabriel weathervane garnered national fame when Chabot’s painting was used as the subject of the first religious-themed Christmas stamp issued by the U.S. Post Office.
According to MacBurnie, the People’s Church had to take down the original vane in the 1980s because antique weathervanes had became a popular target of thieves. Once removed, it was displayed for several years in what was then the Newburyport 5 Cent Savings Bank (now Newburyport Bank). It was sold to a private collector in 2001, and subsequently ended up in the Smithsonian.
Both Palumbo’s replica and the current Angel Gabriel weathervane honor the original design. The current steeple occupant may be a replacement, but as Glenn A. Knoblock and David W. Wemmer point out in “Weathervanes of New England,” “… it still embodies the history of the original vane by occupying its most famous perch and continuing to enrich the local skyline.”
The auction catalog can be found at www.mcinnisauctions.com.
Richard K. Lodge is editor of The Daily News.